Sergey Ananov was rescued Monday morning after the Canadian Forces Joint Rescue Coordination Centre received information about a missing helicopter on Saturday. He was attempting to become the first person to fly solo around the Arctic Circle in a small helicopter.
Speaking to CBC North via satellite phone from the Canadian Coast Guard ship Pierre Radisson, Ananov says he is "getting better" and that with the help of the crew, he feels "really comfortable."
According to Ananov, his intended trip from Iqaluit to Greenland began smoothly. The pilot took off Saturday morning into good weather conditions, flying sandwiched between a layer of fog below and clouds overhead.
However, things quickly began to go south.
"The belt that transfers the power from the engine to the gear was broken and the machine lost its power," Ananov said. "There are two valves, so one of them broke, and with one valve remaining the machine cannot fly horizontally."
Ananov's helicopter began to spin out of control, and he went "down, down, down." He tried to land on a nearby ice floe, but lost control and crashed into the Strait.
Ananov moved quickly, pulling himself, along with a life raft and limited supplies, including three flares, from the downed helicopter. He then swam to the nearest ice floe, climbed on, and started what he calls his "two-day-long ... survival.
The pilot began at a disadvantage: he was "wet through" after crashing into the ocean wearing street clothes and was "frozen to death" once he pulled himself to safety.
He quickly put on a survival suit, and began to shelter himself from the wind.
"The rescue operation started, I think, immediately," Ananov said. "Because in several hours, I hear the sound of big planes searching for me. But that was useless, because the clouds and fog were so thick."
Ananov shot two flares, but knowing that weather conditions may preclude a quick rescue, he then hunkered down, saving his final flare and using his life raft to shield himself from the wind. Temperatures hovered around 5 C and "the wind was chilling."
The wind was not all Ananov had to contend with on the ice floe, as he soon found himself in the company of unwelcome visitors: three polar bears.
"It so happens that some other ice pieces came with the wind, and the bears could reach me very easily," he recalls. "I had three visitors, three bears.
"I was struggling with them, not physically, but morally, more or less. Trying to frighten them."
After yelling and screaming at the bears, Ananov managed to scare them off the ice floe, he says, "luckily.
"They run away, I run after them," he said, laughing. "That was the chase."
'I had to survive'
Ananov spent nearly two days trapped on the ice floe, and says that while waiting for rescue was difficult, he knew that help was coming. Ananov bided his time, rationing what little food he had and melting ice in his mouth for water.
"I knew that I had to struggle for surviving," he said. "Because I knew that the rescue operation is ongoing, but it will take them time. Only by the end of the second day the fog disappeared a little bit. So I understood that time is something that I need. And for that, I had to survive."
On Sunday evening, Ananov finally saw his salvation: the lights of the Pierre Radisson, a Canadian Coast Guard ship. "Luckily, by that time the fog, by the Northern wind, disappeared."
Seeing the lights of the ship, Ananov used his last flare, and was able to capture the attention of the Coast Guard. He was then rescued and is currently en route to Iqaluit, where arrangements will be made to fly him first to Ottawa, and then home to Russia.
Ananov had nothing but praise for his rescuers, saying that they did a "tremendous job.
"They just cancelled all their plans and did a 200-kilometre [journey], maybe more, to my place," he said. "It's really a bad and good coincidence, and bad and good conditions.
"Bad that I find myself in this situation, good that I was finally rescued by Coast Guard."