Transglobal expedition team spent fearful night on thin ice after losing Ford F-150
A 'mistake' to rely on ice thickness data from days before, says team member
The first time Torfi Johansson passed over ice northwest of Taloyoak, Nunavut, in a modified Ford F-150 truck — the ice had been 50 centimetres thick.
So it came as a shock to him, and the rest of the Transglobal Car Expedition, when on the return journey from Resolute Bay to Cambridge Bay a few days later, the vehicle he was driving stopped in that area and began to sink.
There was a "lot of noise," said Johansson. "I knew right away what was going on."
The Icelandic man grabbed his radio and told the vehicle up ahead that his truck was "going down" before he and his passenger scrambled out the passenger side door. He couldn't open his own door, he said, because the vehicle was tilting toward him as it sank.
The expedition claims it is the first-ever overland wheeled journey from the continental shelf of North America to the High Arctic. Andrew Comrie-Picard, a Canadian member of the expedition, previously told CBC News the trip to Resolute would be a month-long prerun for a full expedition that would take place next year.
Once that trip gets underway, the team will travel from the southern tip of South America to the North Pole, then down through Greenland, Europe, Asia and Africa. They'll then go across Antarctica and return to their starting point in South America. It will take them a year and a half.
The incident happened late last Wednesday night, as half of the overland expedition headed back south from a test run to the High Arctic with a goal of returning the modified F-150s to Yellowknife. Four amphibious vehicles driven by the rest of the team stayed back in Resolute.
And so did their only ice thickness scanner.
Emil Grimsson, the founder of Arctic Trucks International, said it was a "mistake" to think the party heading south could rely on ice thickness data gathered just days before. Measurements taken at the site, after the incident, show it was only 15 centimetres thick he said.
"We were [there] just five days ago," said Johansson, with a tone of disbelief. "No way for us to expect for it to change that much, in that amount of time."
Standing there in his socks, watching as the vehicle sank slowly, Johansson said he decided to jump onto the truck's back rack to free bags that carried their clothes and shelter. Then, he and his passenger — a hunter hired from Cambridge Bay to keep them safe from polar bears — walked over to the other F-150 they'd been travelling with. They'd lost many of their belongings, including all their weapons.
It was a fearful night. Worried the second vehicle might also sink, Johansson said the team decided to stay put until there was some daylight to reassess the situation. They put most of their gear outside the vehicle and sat inside of it — the four of them ready to jump out at a moment's notice.
The Transglobal Car Expedition initially said last week no one was hurt in the incident. But speaking to CBC News from a hotel in Edmonton on Monday — where he was stuck without a passport — Johansson said he gave himself a black eye trying to figure out the depth of the ice their last vehicle was parked on.
"I just got [the ice pick] stuck, and I was loosening it… and I just hit myself with it," he said.
And when daylight finally returned Thursday morning — they spotted a polar bear nearby.
"He'd been there the whole time," said Johansson.
The team decided to drive to the closest shore and call for a helicopter rescue.
Grimsson said the sunken vehicle was found Monday afternoon, 8 metres below the surface of the ice, lying on its side. He said it was unclear if they'd be able to haul it back up safely.
It was carrying half a tank of gas when it went down, he said, adding that the second vehicle had been carrying the expedition's extra fuel.
Grimsson said the incident took the entire team by surprise, and Johansson said they were lucky both vehicles didn't go through the ice at the same time.
"We are guessing it was a huge area with thin ice," he said.