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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Helicopter Airlift Saves Stranded Filmmakers




After spending six weeks stranded on an arctic island with dwindling food supplies, a crew of international filmmakers was flown to safety in a helicopter rescue mission Tuesday.


But in spite of their ordeal the three men - an Australian cameraman, a Japanese television producer and their Russian guide - could not understand what all the fuss was about when they arrived in the relative civilization of a nearby settlement.


"We all feel great," biologist Nikita Ovsyannikov said by telephone from his hotel room in the port of Pevek, on the far northern Chukotka peninsula. "Our food supplies were running out but it was nothing fatal."


The three men had been filming a documentary about polar bears on Wrangel Island, 200 kilometers north of the Russian mainland, when bad weather left them marooned. By the time they were rescued, they were down to their last two days' supply of tea, buckwheat and soy sauce.


An Mi-8 helicopter picked up the men early Tuesday and flew them to Pevek, where they were put up in the town's hotel.


Viktor Beltsov, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry, said the helicopter crew had to risk dangerous weather conditions to rescue the men. "The most difficult part was to take off from Chukotka, [but] on Wrangel Island the weather was good enough for flying," he said.


Ovsyannikov said he and his colleagues, cameraman Rory McGuinness and producer Tatsuhiko Kobayashi, were in good health. On arrival in Pevek they went out for a meal at a local restaurant before turning in for some rest.


They were due to fly back to Moscow on Tuesday, but once again, bad weather meant the flight was postponed until Wednesday.


A spokeswoman for NHK television, the Japanese company co-producing the documentary film, said the filmmakers will, as a precaution, undergo a medical examination when they return to Moscow.


She said they were "grateful and happy that they have been finally rescued."


The crew planned to leave the island Oct. 16, but unusually bad weather prevented helicopters from lifting them off. They spent most of the next six weeks holed up in a wooden cabin, which used to serve as a weather station.


"This year the snowstorms were unusually long," said Ovsyannikov, who works for a nature reserve on the island. "I have lived for 20 years on the island, but I have never seen an autumn like that."


While the plight of the filmmakers attracted global attention, the biologist said that the situation is a little better for the thousands of people living year-round in Russia's Far North. Many settlements are without adequate supplies of fuel and food because there was no money to stock up before the onset of winter.


"It is a general situation. Reserves here are low and the bad weather means they cannot bring in extra supplies," Ovsyannikov said.


Ovsyannikov's wife, Irina Menyushina, said she always believed the filmmakers would return. "I was absolutely not worried because I had faith in my husband," she said from her Moscow home. "The sort of people who go there are morally prepared."


The three men were feeling fine, Menyushina said. "They are a little thinner and missed the comforts of civilization. I think the first thing they will want to do is take a bath."


Staff writer Oksana Yablokova contributed to this article.