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Rescue airlift for British kayak pair trapped by Alaska ice

Published 06/03/2016

Adventurer Neil Laughton had to be airlifted to safety along with fellow kayaker James Bingham
Adventurer Neil Laughton had to be airlifted to safety along with fellow kayaker James Bingham

Two British adventurers had to be rescued after becoming stranded off the coast of Alaska while k ayaking across the Bering Strait.

Neil Laughton and James Bingham had to be airlifted to safety by US Coastguard helicopters as they headed for the island of Little Diomede, midway between the western-most tip of Alaska and the eastern corner of mainland Russia.

They had hoped to make the 26.6-mile (43km) journey by cross-country skiing and kayaking but got stuck when the ice became too thin to walk on and too thick to paddle through.

The pair were forced to wear survival suits and activate a locator beacon as they awaited rescue.

A Hercules C-130 plane and two helicopters were used in the rescue and the men were flown more than 100 miles (160km) to Nome, the US Coastguard said.

A coastguard video shows the men being winched to safety on Friday.

Captain Mark Morin, commanding officer of Alaska's Air Station Kodiak, said: "This case involved the co-ordination and full court press utilising one of our C-130 airplanes and two helicopters, all of which consisted of a total of 24 crew members.

"Fortunately, the two survivors were well prepared with a SAT-phone and personal locator beacon, which made locating them easier for my crews."

On Friday, Mr Laughton, who is ex-Special Forces, tweeted: "Not ideal kayaking conditions! Ice was too thin to walk on so little choice on our journey across the Bering Strait."

A description of the expedition on his website said the pair had hoped to "arrange the first game of 5-a-side football on the moving sea ice".

Writing on Facebook from Nome, the pair said they had called the coastguard "reluctantly" after their own helicopter support could not reach them because of poor weather.

They said: "In short there was too much open water and then what ice there was closed in around us after around 15km kayaking south west.

"We battled on as best we could but the ice was too thick to kayak through but too thin to walk on. We smashed through for hours but after a time the ice extended 360 to the horizon all around us and there were no more water leads to follow."

The current carried them north until they were between 25 miles (40km) and 50km (31km) away from Little Diomede, the men added.

Of the US Coastguard, they said: "Their support and the assets deployed to help were beyond anything you could imagine. We are humbled by their service and can't thank them enough."

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