A Russian helicopter pilot who went missing during the Iqaluit-to-Greenland portion of a trip around the world was down to his last flare when he was found on a floe in the Davis Strait this morning.
Sergey Ananov, who left Moscow in mid-June, was travelling to Greenland in a Robinson R-22 helicopter after fuelling up in Iqaluit when the Canadian Forces Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre received information about a missing helicopter Saturday morning.
"It couldn't have been a more austere area of the planet to be in the Davis Strait between Baffin Island and Greenland. It's a pretty rough terrain, a lot of ice in it," said Rear Admiral John Newton.
He said Ananov had seconds to get out once his helicopter landed on the water. Newton said he doesn't believe Ananov's survival suit was completely buttoned up when the plane went down.
After surviving the crash, he had to deal with the cold, limited supplies and polar bears.
"He had some charming neighbours that would have come to his location to inquire what he was up to," said Newton.
The Canadian Coast Guard ship Pierre Radisson spotted a red flare early Monday morning — Ananov's last.
Kirill Kalinin, the press secretary for the Russian Embassy, told CBC that he spoke with Ananov Monday afternoon.
"I asked him about the situation with the polar bears, if he'd encountered [them]," said Kalinin. "And he said yes, at some point three bears managed to get on board the ice floe."
According to Kalinin, Ananov screamed at the top of his lungs until the bears left, leaving him alone on the ice floe.
Pilot doing 'OK'
"He apparently had all his skills and his facilities to look after himself to stay alive, to stay warm, fend off the polar bears and fire the last flare in his package to alert the Pierre Radisson of his location," said Newton.
"He's OK. The joy of being found is the overwhelming emotion that cures a lot of your ills."
Early Monday morning, the Russian Embassy tweeted their thanks to Canadian Forces and the Government of Canada for their part in Ananov's rescue.
"We're very glad everything worked out," Kalinin told CBC North.
Kalinin, who spoke with Ananov Monday afternoon, says that the pilot is "feeling all right" and that he's "slowly but surely making his way into Iqaluit."
Once Ananov is there, said Kalinin, the embassy will work with the Canadian government in order to make arrangements for him to return to Russia. Ananov lost his passport and other documentation during the incident.
Ananov started his world trip June 13 in Moscow. He was found about 380 kilometres east of Iqaluit. The coast guard ship is now on its way back to the territory.
He had arrived in Iqaluit on July 23 via Labrador and Nunavik, in a helicopter weighing less than a tonne, after a long journey across North America.
The helicopter was reported overdue at 3:20 p.m. ET Saturday.
Two Hercules search-and-rescue aircraft and a Cormorant helicopter from 14 Wing Greenwood in Nova Scotia were dispatched to join the search, which also involved a Transport Canada patrol plane and a fishing boat.
The Facebook group tracking Ananov's trip thanked the Canadian crew members for their efforts.
"Sergey is alive," it reads. "Thanks everyone for your prayers and well wishes and undescribable gratitude to all the men and women of the Canadian search and rescue."
Newton said investigators are trying to determine the exact cause of the crash.