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FILM CREW MAROONED ON REMOTE ARCTIC ISLAND RESCUED AS FOOD STARTS TO RUN OUT

A helicopter rescue team early today reached a three-man television crew that had been stranded on a remote arctic island for more than two weeks, rescuers said.

The helicopter, sent by international medical emergency company AEA International SOS, landed on frozen Wrangel Island, company spokesman Mark Crawford said.

"They're in fair spirits," Crawford said. "They're surviving of course, but they were down to their last three days of food."

The crew arrived on Wrangel Island Sept. 2 to make a documentary on polar bears. The trio intended to leave Oct. 15 but was delayed by bad weather. Near-blizzard conditions for the last 45 days has kept emergency officials from being able to carry out a helicopter rescue.

The crew had been holed up in a cabin on the island's northeast coast, about 350 miles west of Alaska.

The temperature was around minus 22 degrees, with a strong wind. The crew had a diesel generator, a computer, a cellular phone and access to e-mail, but was running low on fuel, news reports said.

The Japanese crew member, Tatsuhiko Kobayashi, is an employee of NHK, the Japanese television company. The Australian is cameraman John McGuiness. The name of the Russian was not available.

Russian military helicopters and others chartered by an insurance company hired by the film's producers had been standing by for weeks at Point Shmidta, a small settlement on the mainland across the ice pack from Wrangel Island, waiting for a break in the weather.

The filmmakers were working on a documentary on Asian wildlife co-produced by a New Zealand film company and NHK. The stranded men were huddled together in a small research hut at Point Blossom, an incongruously named spit of iced-over tundra on the southwestern tip of the desolate island northwest of the Bering Strait.

The three men arrived on Wrangel in mid-September and were scheduled to stay until mid-October.

But severe weather -- even by the standards of the harsh arctic north -- had prevented the men from moving. On Monday Michael Stedman, managing director of Natural History New Zealand Ltd., the company producing the documentary, said the men's condition is "as good as you would expect for anybody marooned for 50 days. . . . The conditions are appalling. We are interested in their psychological well-being. We are talking to them about getting some exercise."

The men have been able to keep in touch through e-mail sent through a battery-powered satellite phone, as well as by a few telephone calls. Correspondence is kept to a bare minimum because "batteries are a huge problem." He said the men had been corresponding mainly about rescue strategies.

"The situation is pretty dire. It is not immediately life threatening, but when they run out of food in a few days, it becomes pretty life threatening," Rebecca Scott, a friend of McGuinness, told the Australian Associated Press before the rescue.

Scott, who has talked to McGuinness regularly by satellite telephone, said the men recently had been adding a snow wall to insulate the hut, where the inside temperature was just above freezing.

Robert K. Headland, archivist of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University in England, said the island on which the men are stranded is a rugged, mountainous "moonscape" with barely enough vegetation to support a few reindeer that live there. Headland, who has visited the island several times, said the island is one of the world's richest homes of walrus, polar bears and snow geese, but also one of the harshest environments on Earth.

Headland said 24 people live on the island year round, at a tiny village 35 miles from the hut. He said blizzard conditions had made it impossible to reach the area by snowmobile, the normal means of transport.

"They get a helluva lot of weather up there," Headland said.

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