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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 March, 2004, 21:53 GMT
Scientists rescued from ice floe
The scientists are about to board the rescue helicopter. Picture: Russian RTR television
Rescuers faced the possibility of not being able to land on the floe
Twelve Russian scientists have been flown to safety after a dramatic rescue operation on an ice floe in the Arctic.

After flying about 800km (450 miles) from the nearest dry land, two helicopters landed on the shifting ice to pick up all the stranded men.

The party, including two dogs, were flown to Norway's Spitzbergen island, where they were said to be well.

Part of the floating ice shelf sank on Wednesday, destroying most of Russia's North Pole-32 research station.

The rescue operation is a success
Artur Chilingarov
rescue operation chief

The ice beneath it cracked, then rose up in a terrifying wall 10m (30ft) tall, which crushed the base and swallowed supplies and equipment.

"All of a sudden... a huge wall of ice appeared that kept growing and growing," station chief Vladimir Koshelyev earlier told Russian television.

"First it was three metres high, then five, then seven and finally over 10... In the course of a half-hour it practically swallowed up to 90% of the station," he said.

Four of the station's six buildings sank into the icy seas and the scientists were left with food for only five days.

Weather has reportedly been favourable for the rescue operation, with good visibility and temperatures reported to be -25 C (-13F), slightly warmer than forecast.

The men had been studying climate change when their base was destroyed.

The rescued scientists aboard the helicopter. Picture: Russian RTR television
The scientists said their team morale had been high

None of the researchers were hurt and they sheltered in the few structures that did not sink into the icy water.

The range of the two helicopters - Mi-8 and Mi-26 - left almost no room for error in the rescue operation.

However, the Mi-8 could have landed on other ice floes en route, should weather conditions have deteriorated.

A nuclear powered icebreaker also set off towards the station on Friday to back up the rescue operation.

The station started work in April 2003 and has travelled about 3,000 kilometres on the ice floe in the last 11 months .

The scientists are expected to be home in time to celebrate Monday's International Women's Day - a popular holiday in Russia.






WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Ingham
"The search for the scientists pushed resuce crews to the limit"



SEE ALSO:
Russia's awkward Arctic rescue
05 Mar 04  |  Europe
Russia returns to Arctic
27 Apr 03  |  Europe


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