Three men stranded in snow pit for 30 hours rescued by chance

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Three men forced to spend 30 hours in a snow pit on a glacier in east Spitsbergen when their snowmobiles broke down were rescued Wednesday night after a person in a search helicopter spotted their shelter by chance, according to The Governor of Svalbard.

“They did not bring a satellite phone, emergency beacon or VHF radio,” a statement from the governor noted. “It was also unclear what route they were following and when they would be back.”

The men, all Swedish and in their 30s, departed Longyearbyen last Monday, but one of their snowmobiles developed an engine failure shortly afterward. They drove the remaining two snowmobiles to a trappers’ cabin at Agardh, where they spent the night.

“On Tuesday they were going to return to Longyearbyen, but they experienced problems with the last two snowmobiles,” the governor’s statement noted.

The men, stranded on Königsbergbreen, tried to search on foot for other snowmobilers in the area, but were forced to dig the snow pit when a storm hindered their progress.

Although they weren’t specific about their plans, they were expected to return to Longyearbyen either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. The governor’s office was alerted to their absence by the men’s employer at 2:11 p.m. Tuesday, but a search by two rescue helicopters during the afternoon and evening proved futile.

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A snow pit where three men spent 30 hours is observed from the air from a search helicopter. Photo by Trond Oslen / Sysselmannen.

The search continued Wednesday and the men were finally located at about 11 p.m. when an observer spotted a red flash through a break in the clouds.

“The helicopter saw a flash of light and then flares,” the statement noted. “They had sought rescue in a very large area where the two helicopters had previously missed their signals.”

The men were brought to Longyearbyen Hospital for examination, but suffered no serious harm, according to the governor.

“The governor urges people who are traveling to provide clear details about where they are going and when they will be back,” the statement noted. “We recommend strongly that you bring suitable communications equipment and equipment for emergency camping, and that they write in cabin books about their continuing route.”