Thirty hours on breakaway ice floe

Last updated 18:01 27/06/2013

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Stuck on an Arctic ice floe

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An Australian tourist has told of a freezing ordeal after his tour group was stranded on a drifting and sinking ice floe in the Canadian Arctic.

Melbourne surgeon Professor Ian Jones was in a group of about 30 tourists and guides who were stuck after the slab of ice broke off from Baffin Island and floated 18 kilometres out to sea.

"It was a pretty strong current. For about 24 hours we floated at about a kilometre an hour," he said after being rescued by the Canadian Air Force.

"We were in the centre of the ice floe, which was about six square kilometres when we started, but it had melted down to about three square kilometres by the time we got off. It was clearly deteriorating and we were in strife," he said.

Temperatures in the region have been below zero, with significant wind chill, rain and sleet during the group's 30-hour ordeal in the stark polar landscape known for its polar bears and narwhals (whales).

Jones said the mood among the group - including Americans, Canadians and Inuit guides - was "concerned but calm".

The group had set out on snowmobiles from Arctic Bay on Tuesday and travelled about 70 kilometres before establishing camp on the ice at Admiralty Inlet.

Initial rescue attempts to land a Twin Otter aircraft on the drifting ice were abandoned because of dangerous conditions, but after about 24 hours adrift the ice floe changed direction and hit land, where the tourists scrambled onto a rocky outcrop.

They sheltered in an old hunter's cabin before being rescued by Canadian Air Force helicopters.

A group of Inuit hunters had also been stranded on the breakaway ice and was flown back to Arctic Bay with the tourists.

Earlier, a Hercules had dropped survival kits, including rafts, onto the ice floe.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police captain Yvonne Niego said the incident was unusual.

"I'm a local and I haven't seen anything like this for a long time," she said.

Jones said he had to leave his luggage behind but had managed to buy a T-shirt and toothbrush at the tiny Arctic Bay settlement.

"I was on a holiday with my wife and daughters in New York, but decided to peel off and do this trip. I'm looking forward to getting back to them on the weekend," he said.

The company running the trip was polar travel specialist Arctic Kingdom.

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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