The first time Torfi Johansson drove over the ice northwest of Taloyoak, Nunavut, in a modified Ford F-150 truck, the ice was 50 centimeters thick.
So it came as a shock to him, and to the rest of the Transglobal Car Expedition, when on the return trip from Resolute Bay to Cambridge Bay a few days later, the vehicle he was driving stopped in that area and started to sink.
There was “a lot of noise,” Johansson said. “I knew right away what was going on.”
The Icelander grabbed his radio and told the vehicle in front of him that his truck was “falling” before he and his passenger rushed out the passenger side door. He was unable to open his own door, he said, because the vehicle tilted towards him as it sank.
The expedition claims this is the first-ever overland journey on wheels between North America’s continental shelf and the High Arctic. Andrew Comrie-Picard, a Canadian member of the expedition, previously told CBC News that the trip to Resolute would be month-long preparation for a full expedition taking place next year.
Once this journey begins, the team will travel from the southern tip of South America to the North Pole and then through Greenland, Europe, Asia and Africa. They will then cross Antarctica and return to their starting point in South America. It will take them a year and a half.
The incident happened late last Wednesday night as half of the ground expedition headed south after a trial in the High Arctic in an effort to bring the modified F-150s back to Yellowknife. Four amphibious vehicles driven by the rest of the team remained in Resolute.
And so did their only ice thickness scanner.
Emil Grimsson, the founder of Arctic Trucks International, said it was a “mistake” to think the southbound group could rely on ice thickness data collected days before. Measurements taken at the site, after the incident, show it was only 15 centimeters thick, he said.
“We were [there] just five days ago,” Johansson said, with a tone of disbelief. “No way for us to expect it to change that much, in that time frame.”
Standing in his socks, watching the vehicle slowly sink, Johansson said he decided to jump onto the rear rack of the truck to release the bags containing their clothing and shelter. Then he and his passenger – a fighter hired from Cambridge Bay to protect them from polar bears – headed for the other F-150 they were traveling with. They had lost a lot of their possessions, including all of their weapons.
It was a scary night. Fearing the second vehicle could also sink, Johansson said the team decided to stay put until there was some daylight to reassess the situation. They put most of their gear outside the vehicle and sat inside – all four of them ready to jump at a moment’s notice.
The Transglobal Car Expedition initially said last week that no one was injured in the incident. But speaking to CBC News from a hotel in Edmonton on Monday – where he was stuck without a passport – Johansson said he gave himself a black eye trying to work out how deep the ice their latest vehicle was on. was parked.
“I just received [the ice pick] stuck, and I was loosening it…and just hit myself with it,” he said.
And when daylight finally returned on Thursday morning, they spotted a polar bear nearby.
“He had been there the whole time,” Johansson said.
The team decided to drive to the nearest shore and call for a helicopter rescue.
Grimsson said the sunken vehicle was found on Monday afternoon, 8 meters below the surface of the ice, lying on its side. He said it was unclear if they would be able to reassemble him safely.
It was carrying a half-tank of gasoline when it fell, he said, adding that the second vehicle was carrying the expedition’s extra fuel.
Grimsson said the incident took the whole team by surprise, and Johansson was lucky the two vehicles didn’t go through the ice at the same time.
“We assume it was a huge area of thin ice,” he said.