Thursday, August 18, 2005

Narrow Escape from Polar Bears

Three Polish men have escaped what must be one of the most hair-raising situations imaginable – being stranded between glaciers on a remote Arctic island whilst being circled by hungry polar bears. It was a case of fate bearing down on the three shipwrecked Arctic researchers as they waited 15 hours for rescuers to arrive. A helicopter appeared as the bears came perilously close. The hairsbreadth escape took place on an island in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, about 1,000 kilometres from the North Pole. "It was the worst imaginable situation. They were cold and wet, had no equipment or weapons, and were surrounded by hungry polar bears," said Peter Braaten of the Svalbard governor's office. The three were aboard the Polish research ship Horyzont when they set out in a small inflatable boat to pick up equipment on one of the islands. "Their boat capsized, and they lost all their equipment and weapons," Mr Braaten said. He said they swam and clambered over chunks of floating ice to get to the island of Egdeoya.

The research ship repeatedly tried to send in another small boat to pick them up, but conditions were too rough. The ship finally used a harpoon canon to fire a rope to land, so it could send the researchers food and water. Then it called for help. "They managed to start a fire, to keep warm and keep the polar bears away," Mr Braaten said, explaining that the men used the spark plugs from their capsized craft's outboard motor to get the fire going. The island has some dried grass and scrubby plants. He said at least three polar bears looking for a meal were within roughly 20 metres of the men when the helicopter picked them up. Polar bears have no natural enemies in their frozen domain and regard all other living things, including humans, as potential meals.


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