ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A man who was rescued from a drifting sheet of floating ice in northwest Alaska said he had to jump from floe to floe as the ice started breaking into smaller pieces.
Phillip Rode, John Culp Jr. and James Gibson were rescued by a helicopter Sunday evening after they became stranded miles (kilometers) off the coast of Nome, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
The group went out on the ice to recover gold mining equipment, said Rode, a Nome construction business operator and gold miner. Using a skiff, they planned to ferry the equipment from an ice shelf that was beginning to detach from the beach.
The ice near Nome is usually solid until early May.
"We never have open water this time of year," Rode said. "Usually the ice is 8 feet (2.4 meters) thick. This year it was only a couple feet thick, not even frozen very hard. It's bizarre."
The ice broke loose as they were moving equipment, but they did not immediately notice they had drifted out to the Bering Sea.
"We were in open water, and we could just see endless icebergs and the boat getting further and further away," Rode said.
The ice started cracking under them, and the floes became smaller and farther apart. Rode said he jump from ice sheet to ice sheet to stay near the other two men. Before he was rescued, he ended up on a floe no bigger than a small car, he said.
Alaska State Troopers dispatched a helicopter that landed on the ice and took the men home. They were in open water for two to three hours, Rode said.
The lack of sea ice is unprecedented in the city's history, said Rick Thoman, a climate specialist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
"I'm not aware of any time when there's been open water to the beach or no significant sea ice at this point in the season," Thoman said.