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How A Russian Helicopter Pilot Survived After Crashing In The Arctic


Sergey Ananov wants you to know his helicopter did not technically crash. A crash, he says, is the result of a pilot's mistake. His helicopter made a forced landing on water in the Arctic. And that's where we pick up this story of survival. Mr. Ananov, welcome to the program.

SERGEY ANANOV: Thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: You were trying to break a new record. What was the record you were trying to break?

ANANOV: Correct. That was the attempt to become the first person to circumnavigate the world in a helicopter weighing less than one ton.

SHAPIRO: And you had nearly completed your journey when your helicopter went down.

ANANOV: Yes. I'm proud to say that I crossed all Russia and I crossed United States of America and Canada. And I was looking forward to finish it successfully in Moscow again.

SHAPIRO: So you were in the Arctic between Canada and Greenland. Your helicopter goes down, and from what I understand, it just sank like a stone to the bottom of the sea. What did you do?

ANANOV: I made my way out. And I just managed to grab on the life raft. I swim to the lump of ice that was 50 meters from me. Thirty-seven hours I was trying to stay alive.

SHAPIRO: Trying to stay alive - and the challenges include polar bears.

ANANOV: Exactly. About four hours later, I was lying covered by the life raft and suddenly I heard the loud breathing of a bear approaching me. And I just was caught by surprise and I decided to catch him by surprise in reverse. So I jumped out of my life raft and frightened him and I was roaring et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

SHAPIRO: Wait, wait, wait, you were roaring and what? Like standing with your arms up in the air, waving your hands. What were you doing?

ANANOV: I just rushed at him and I was angry. I was angry with myself, with the situation, with the idea that it's the final moment of my life because I was quite sure that he will eat me.

SHAPIRO: And how did the polar bear respond?

ANANOV: It was ridiculous because, you know, I acted when you pretend to be a monster with the children. You know, I work like...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

ANANOV: I chased after him. And the bear, he run to the edge of my ice and jumped to another ice. I couldn't follow him because I am not the ice jumper, you know? So...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

ANANOV: And he started walking slowly away. Unfortunately, there was a thick fog there, which was my biggest problem after the bears.

SHAPIRO: Because nobody could see you through the fog if people were trying to rescue you.

ANANOV: Yes. There was a rescue operation ongoing, but they couldn't see me. They couldn't see my flares and I had only three of them.

SHAPIRO: You had only three flares and there was thick fog.

ANANOV: Yes. I spent - I spent two flares the first day. The second day - and I just said to myself I would use the third flare when I could see a rescue team or they could see me. And the fog disappeared after two days and I saw the beamlight of a ship and then everything was already easy.

SHAPIRO: Did this experience teach you anything about yourself that you didn't know before?

ANANOV: No. Frankly, no because I know myself very well. I'm 50 years old and maybe I never spoke with God with such a passion that I spoke when I was lying there. I gave him some promises and I usually do not - didn't do that.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Have you kept the promises?

ANANOV: I am keeping them. It's a long process because I gave (laughter) I gave several and they're not easy.

SHAPIRO: That's helicopter pilot Sergey Ananov who hopes to try again to become the first person to fly solo around the world in a helicopter that weighs less than a ton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.