Two post-graduate students from Moscow State University were rescued on Tuesday after the ice floe they were sampling broke off and drifted out to sea. The pair had been measuring the thickness of the sheet ice covering the White Sea when the incident occurred.
Part of a team of twelve students and two teachers from the Faculty of Geography on a short expedition to Pertominsk, a remote area in the far northwestern edge of Russia. The man and woman were separated from the rest of the group around 4pm, when strong winds caused a 12 by 16m patch of ice to break off from the shore. For the next six hours, the couple could only watch as they were carried out into the bay. It took almost an hour for their colleagues to raise the alarm with the regional rescue service based 100km away at Arkhangelsk.
With their helicopter grounded by blizzard conditions, the rescuers set off by road, towing a small amphibious boat. Because of poor road conditions, they did not expect to reach the students before midnight. At the same time, the icebreaker Dixon, itself 100km away, set sail course for the students, but found that it could not navigate the shallow waters of the bay for fear of running aground.
Finally, at 9pm, the weather lifted and a Mi-8 naval helicopter left Vaskovo airport. As the rescuers approached the bay, they spotted two lights flashing desperately in the darkness, three miles from shore. Setting down on the 40cm thick floe, the team plucked the two students to safety and returned home (see video of rescue).
The pair had built a small shelter on the floe out of snow and ski poles. They were in good spirits and told rescuers they had kept warm during their six hour voyage by running, dancing and singing songs.