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Charging Polar Bears

Charging Polar Bears

From cruising in the air to choosing when to use your flare
By Katie Weaver
Aug 22
2016
From the August/September 2016 Issue

Russian helicopter pilot Sergey Ananov had almost become the first person to fly around the world in a chopper lighter than one tonne. It was Day 42—only 4,000 miles left. Then a belt to the engine broke and his helicopter went down halfway between Greenland and Nunavut, right into the Davis Strait. 

It sank within 30 seconds, along with his trackers, a distress beacon and a SAT phone. Ananov swam to the nearest ice and pulled himself up. He had his life raft, a soaking wet survival suit that he’d been wearing only on his bottom half (it was uncomfortable to fly in), 2,000 calories worth of protein bars, three flares, and a 20-metre hunk of ice he was about to call home for the next two days.

He lay under his life raft for hours. Then he heard heavy breathing. A polar bear had caught his scent and was headed across the ice towards him. Ananov obeyed his instincts: He jumped up, screaming, arms flailing. The bear turned to leave, but Ananov wasn’t about to stop there. He chased the polar bear, right to the edge of his ice lump. He made a racket until he could no longer see the bear. From then on, Ananov would not sleep for fear of another predator stopping by for a visit. 

By morning, two planes had flown by, and neither had seen his flares masked by thick fog. Another bear arrived, followed by a third, and he charged after them just like he’d done with the first. “I know what you are thinking,” Ananov shares with BBC. “Why am I so sure that these were all different bears, and not the same one? The very fact that all three bears behaved in exactly the same way suggests to me that they were different. If it was the same bear, you would expect it to learn from experience and be less scared the second time, a bit more persistent.” Late on the second day, the fog lifted and an icebreaker crew spotted Ananov’s last flare. 

He returned to his friends and family injury-free, and says he’d try again to fly around the world—should his family let him leave their sight. “But on my knees I must beg them to let me do it again. Again and again!”