Arctic expedition commits to recovering sunken truck near Taloyoak, Nunavut

A member of the Transglobal Car Expedition studies the spot where a modified F-150 was lost through the ice, northwest of Taloyoak in Nunavut. One of its specialized 44-inch flotation tires came off as the rest of the vehicle sunk. (Submitted by Emil Grimsson)

An Arctic expedition that sunk a truck near Taloyoak, Nunavut, has committed to hauling the vehicle out of the ocean — a logistical challenge that’ll rely on weather conditions, a pair of ships and good timing.

The Transglobal Car Expedition lost a modified Ford F-150 through the ice northwest of Taloyoak in March. It happened while part of the team headed back to Cambridge Bay, after successfully travelling overland from Yellowknife to Resolute Bay, Nunavut.

No one was seriously hurt but, citing concerns about contamination in a prime hunting ground, the Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Association in Taloyoak has called on the expedition to recover the truck as quickly as possible.

Emil Grimsson, an Icelandic team member tasked with figuring out whether it was possible to retrieve it, told CBC News on Monday that after months of planning — the tentative retrieval date has been set for Sept. 1.

“I think it’s going to work out,” said Grimsson.

But, he acknowledged, the success of the operation is contingent on several moving parts — most of which are beyond his control.

The Transglobal Car Expedition’s 2022 prerun took them from Yellowknife to Resolute Bay and back. They lost one Ford F-150 through the ice on the return trip. (CBC)

A logistical undertaking

The first hurdle, said Grimsson, will be whether enough ice has melted to carry out the operation. Having studied historical satellite imagery, Grimsson said if it’s a normal year enough water would be open by the end of July to move forward with the next step. 

That is, to ensure the vehicle is still in the same place it sunk. 

This modified Ford F-150 sunk to the ocean’s floor, eight meters from the surface of the ice northwest of Taloyoak, on March 23. (Submitted by Emil Grimsson)

Grimsson said he’s speaking with people in Taloyoak to arrange a site visit in mid-August to find out if the truck is still in the same spot among the Tasmania Islands, eight metres from the surface of the water. 

If the truck is still where they expect it to be, Grimsson said the plan is to bring a retrieval crew to the site aboard an Arctic research vessel called the Martin Bergmann, which he said has nearly all the gear that’s needed.

“It will basically launch out a small little boat, the diver will go down [and] put four balloons around the car, and they will pump up these balloons.” 

The balloons will lift the vehicle close to the surface of the water, and from there it’ll either be pulled to an island where it’ll be picked up by a barge or it’ll be towed out into deeper water where a shipping vessel can pluck it directly from the water. 

Grimsson said another option, if the schedules of the two vessels don’t align, is to strip the vehicle and leave it on the island for pick up at a later point. 

An expensive endeavour

It’s unclear how much the retrieval is going to cost. 

Grimsson said he has a commitment from the man who spearheaded the expedition, Vasily Shakhnovsky, to spend “quite a bit of money” on it — but he wouldn’t say what the budget was. Shakhnovsky is a Russian former oil and gas executive, once reported by Forbes to have wealth well in excess of $1 billion. 

Before the expedition even began, the team made headlines for landing in Yellowknife with two Russian civilians on board — breaking airspace restrictions that were imposed because of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. 

Transport Canada grounded the plane and laid thousands of dollars of fines against a Russian passenger who chartered the aircraft, both of its pilots, and the aircraft operator.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: ‘Significant’ amounts of mercury in permafrost threatens Arctic food supply, research says

Norway: Will the green transition be the new economic motor in the Arctic?, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Two years after huge Arctic spill, river water in Norilsk is still red from diesel fuel, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Wind farm delays in northern Sweden could hinder green revolution, Radio Sweden.

Liny Lamberink, CBC News

Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She previously worked for CBC London as a reporter and newsreader. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca

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