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Pilots survive night on Hudson Strait ice sheet

18 hours at -20°C

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Two pilots spent 18 hours floating on an ice sheet after their aircraft suffered twin engine failure on a flight from the US to Sweden, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Australian Oliver Edwards-Neil, 25, and Sweded Troels Hansen, 45, ditched their Cessna Skymaster in the Hudson Strait, just south of the Arctic circle at around 5pm on Sunday. Edwards-Neil recounted: "We were flying over the north of Canada across a waterway when we had a double engine failure, which is pretty uncommon. We sent a distress signal and issued a mayday, and in five to seven minutes we were ditching in the water.

"There were these little ice sheets everywhere, and we managed to ditch the plane next to one of those - an ice sheet about five by 10 metres. As soon as we touched down in the water the plane started sinking like a rock.

"But one wing had rested itself on the ice sheet, the plane had bridged itself to the ice sheet and we managed to climb out onto that. We were lucky to get out. By the time we got out, the water was up to the ceiling."

The aircraft quickly sank. Edwards-Neil continued: "So now we were on this ice sheet not having a clue if it would support our weight, hoping to death that it would. We didn't have any survival gear, or rockets or flare guns because we didn't have time to get it out of the plane."

It was already dark by the time the pair were left stranded on the ice sheet, and they listened as search helicopters responding to the mayday vainly attempted to spot the stranded men. Edwards-Neil said "After they stopped flying...I guess it was midnight but we had no watch...we were just trying to survive everything.

"It was -20 degrees and we had these survival suits, which were fantastic and saved our life. But I never thought I could freeze that much. I was shivering non-stop. I was sure that I was not going to make it but my mate said 'You're going to get there.'"

After a harrowing night without food or water, the morning brought renewed hopes of rescue, but Edwards-Neil told the SMH: "Daylight came and we said: 'This is our chance to be found.' But half an hour later there were no rescue choppers, which was strange. We didn't know they'd called the search off.

"We started to think about how to save ourselves. We knew we couldn't survive another night on the ice because there was no shelter. We were all frostbitten on both feet because we were standing non-stop on ice. So we started to hop from one ice sheet to another to get to shore."

Half an hour later, they were rescued by fishing vessel the Atlantic Enterprise, which had responded to the mayday and steamed 180 miles to offer assistance. Captain Bo Mortensen told local media: "They were crying and all that. They were happy to see the boat. They looked good. They were in good shape. They were a little bit frostbitten on the feet, but they were in good shape."

Edwards-Neil concluded: "We were out of our heads [with relief]...they'll be getting a case of something from us."

The two men were taken to hospital in Iqaluit, Canada. The Sydney Morning Herald has more of Edwards-Neil's account of the ordeal here. ®

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