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The Cessna Skymaster plane was flying through the cold night sky over the Arctic when first one engine failed, and moments later, the other.

The pilot issued a mayday call and began scouring the Hudson Strait for a safe place to land. He was able to glide the crippled plane to a controlled crash landing on an ice floe seven kilometres off the southern coast of Baffin Island .

He touched down safely, but the 10-centimetre-thick ice gave way almost immediately under the weight of the plane. The pilot and the other man on board were just able to scramble out the window before the plane vanished into the freezing waters, taking their life raft with it.

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The men were wearing insulated survival suits, but had nothing with which to make a fire. With the temperature dropping as night fell Sunday, they knew they had to stay warm to survive, so they started walking. They were still pacing the ice floe nearly 18 hours later when a shrimping vessel hove into view yesterday morning and rescued them.

"They were very healthy," said Bo Mortensen, captain of the Atlantic Enterprise, which had been about 180 nautical miles away when it received the mayday call Sunday night. "One of them was frostbitten on his feet. They were smiling and crying."

The men, identified as Australian Oliver Edwards and Dane Troels Hansen, both now living in Sweden, were later picked up by a Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopter and flown to Iqaluit, 150 kilometres to the north. They spent the night at Qikiqtani General Hospital, where spokeswoman Yasmina Pepa said they were "alive and in good condition."

Mr. Mortensen said the men told him only the bare outlines of their ordeal.

"They lost the engines on the airplane and [went]down," he said, speaking from the bridge of his vessel. "When they landed they cracked a window and they came out this way. The airplane sank and they were walking on the ice all night."

They were ferrying the twin-engine plane from the United States to a new owner in Sweden. They had taken off from Wabush, in Labrador, usually a two- to three-hour flight.

An official with the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax, which spearheaded the search and rescue, said their chances of survival "would have been very, very much lower" if they'd been forced to ditch in the water. Air temperatures dipped to -20C Sunday night.

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Major Denis McGuire told The Canadian Press that the ice was newly formed and "mushy," but was just thick enough to support the aircraft until it skidded to a halt.

"It's like skating on a pond," he said. "When you stop moving all that weight transfers directly down and then there's problems."

Jeri Grychowski, a spokeswoman for the rescue centre, said the men were "very lucky" to have come through the incident unscathed:

"They were lucky they were on a piece of ice that was solid."

A leading polar bear expert said that the men were in an area with a high density of the predators and that they would be hungry at this time of year.

"They would have short daylight and almost everything would look like a polar bear," said Andrew Derocher, a professor at the University of Alberta who also serves on Polar Bear International's scientific advisory council. "If it was me I'd be really wanting to have a gun if I was out there."

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The skipper of the Atlantic Enterprise said that they gave the men coffee, hot food and a change of clothes, letting them get out of the survival suits that likely saved their lives.

Rod Rakic, a search and rescue pilot in Chicago, said it made sense the men would have been flying over Nunavut on the way to Europe.

"Those types of aircraft, they have limited range," he noted. "They don't fly very high, they're typically unpressurized, and so due to weather, they may be taking sort of circuitous routes. The one thing you want to do is stay away from weather, and stay away from routes that will keep you over open water for a significant amount of time."

Peter Matthews, a spokesman for Clearwater Seafoods, owner of the Atlantic Enterprise, called the rescue "fantastic news." He said people in the company office in Lunenburg, N.S., were near tears upon receiving word.

Canada's traditional coldwater shrimp fisheries extend from the waters east of Nova Scotia, up past Newfoundland and Labrador and into the Davis Strait, running between Greenland and Baffin Island - well north of where the two men were rescued.

It's not at all uncommon for a trawler to be working off the coast of Baffin Island at this time of year, said John Collins, regional director with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in St. John's.

John Cottreau, a spokesman with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said investigators would interview the pilot to find out what happened.

"We are going to assess based on what the pilot tells us how we are going to conduct ourselves further with this particular accident," he said from Ottawa.

He said any investigation would be difficult because there is no wreckage to examine.

"We're without an aircraft and that makes an investigation more challenging," he said. "We are certainly looking to talk with them as soon as they are able."

With reports from Diana Mehta and Amanda Truscott in Toronto and The Canadian Press

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ARCTIC RESCUE

Oliver Edwards and Troels Hansen, both of Sweden, are lucky to be alive after crash-landing and waiting 18 hours on an ice floe for rescue.

Sunday afternoon

A Swedish-registered Cessna Skymaster takes off from Wabush, Labrador en route to Iqaluit.

About 4 p.m., Sunday

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax receives a distress call from the aircraft reporting engine trouble

About 5 p.m.

After the second engine fails, the plane crash-lands on a 10-centimetre-thick ice floe in Hudson Strait

Moments later

As the plane stops moving, it rapidly begins to sink into the frigid ocean, so the men scramble to a more solid ice floe.

About 11 a.m., Monday

The men are picked up by a Canadian shrimp boat that had received a request for assistance from the rescue centre.

About 1 p.m.

The men are airlifted from the ship by a Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopter and taken to a hospital in Iqaluit.

SWEDISH-REGISTERED CESSNA SKYMASTER

BOTH MEN WERE WEARING INSULATED NEOPRENE SURVIVAL SUITS

LUNENBURG, N.S.-BASED ATLANTIC ENTERPRISE

TEMPERATURE DIPS TO -20 C, BUT SEAS ARE REPORTED TO BE RELATIVELY CALM

TONIA COWAN AND TRISH MCALASTER/

THE GLOBE AND MAIL; SOURCE: WIRE REPORTS

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