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Ice floes float in Baffin Bay above the Arctic circle in this file photo. A missing Russian helicopter pilot was found alive by rescue workers.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A Russian helicopter pilot survived a crash of his small helicopter into frigid Arctic waters by scrambling into a life-raft and then spending over 30 hours awaiting rescue on an ice floe, military officials said Monday.

Sergey Ananov was on a solo, around-the-world journey in his single-engine aircraft and was about halfway between Iqualuit and Greenland when his Robinson R22 helicopter ditched in the Davis Strait on Saturday afternoon.

Rear Admiral John Newton says the search and rescue co-ordination centre was notified after an on-board beacon indicated Ananov's single-seat aircraft had descended to sea level and stopped moving.

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The admiral said the 49-year-old sociologist and journalist had his life-raft close at hand and his survival suit was on as it hit the water.

"It's wet, it's cold, he has some polar bear neighbours who are very interested in his whereabouts. He has quite a survival story."

Newton said Ananov fired off flares but they couldn't be seen in the cloudy, misty conditions by rescue aircraft and helicopters that had been dispatched to the scene.

However, early on Monday morning a watchkeeper with the coast guard vessel Pierre Radisson, which had set out from Frobisher Bay to find the lost aviator, spotted one of the flares fired from the floe.

The vessel sent its helicopter to retrieve Ananov, who by then had been on the ice approximately 32 hours.

Newton said the flight the pilot was attempting was risky even by military standards.

"When we fly our big Cormorant search and rescue, multi-engine helicopters over the ocean, we fly a Hercules (plane) on top to make sure our helicopter is safe," he said during an interview at the search and rescue centre in Halifax.

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"There's clear risk when operating in the north ... from our point of view, we fly differently,"

The admiral said the military search centre worked on the assumption that Ananov was alive throughout the rescue attempt, but knew that heaving oceans and extreme cold posed risks as the hours went by.

"We never gave up on him. There's a combined story of his tale of woe and the determined search by search and rescue ... the coast guard should be proud of what they achieved today," said Newton.

Capt. Wayne Jarvis, who was working at the search and rescue centre at the time of the rescue, said it's believed the cause of the crash was a mechanical problem.

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