Ordeal of Russian rafters comes to an end

Russian rescuers have returned from China after taking part in a two-week search operation for six missing rafters. The operation was finally called off on Wednesday, with one rafter still missing. Two men were found alive and the bodies of three others

The Russian Emergencies ministry plane landed at Ramenkoye military airport, bringing home the two surviving rafters and the bodies of the three others who died in China.

The relatives of the dead were at the airport, but didn't leave their cars and didn't want to speak to anyone.

For the friends and relatives of those who survived it was a moment of joy, ending a terrible month of uncertainty.

35-year old Aleksandr Zverev spent more than three weeks in the wilderness. He lost 25 kilogrammes. He said he always felt God was helping him and testing him at the same time. He tried not to think about death.
For his fiancee Olga, it was an unbearable time:  “I tried not to watch TV. I was just praying 24 hours a day. I knew he'd come back to me,” she said. 

She added that she’d be reluctant to let him go on another expedition. 

And Aleksandr himself isn't ready for another adventure yet.

“No, I don't want to return to that river or to any other river. Never,” he said.

Andrey Pautov, survivor
Andrey Pautov, survivor

Another survivor, 28-year old Andrey Pautov, didn't want to share his thoughts…

He was found  hours after his team-mate Aleksandr. He managed to find his way to a camp set up by rescuers.

In mid-August, six Russian rafters departed from Pulu village in Northern China to begin their downstream trip.

Their two Chinese guides returned to the village planning to meet them again at the beginning of September.

But the sportsmen failed to appear. Their rafts were wrecked.

“All the sportsmen were highly professional. They were probably the best trained rafting team to tackle this river. But this river is very dangerous. It’s as hard to conquer as the highest mountains,” said Sergey Panush from Slalom Federation of Russia.   

Local authorities mobilised almost two thousand people for the search and rescue operation. Two weeks ago a Russian team joined them.

September 11 was a happy day for everybody.   That was when two of the rafters were finally found alive. 
“The search was carried out at the height of 3,000 metres. We worked alongside our Chinese colleagues. We’ve made 23 flights, total flying time of 86 hours, covering more than 12,000 killometres. The search took place over a large area. The Chinese Military Police, National Security and volunteers were involved. They’ve looked all along the river,” said Andrey Legoshin, Russia’s Emergency Ministry's representative.

On Wednesday, the remaining tourist was officially declared missing as the Russian Emergencies Ministry called off its rescue operation.

But his colleagues and friends from the Slalom Federation of Russia are far from giving up. They are planning their own rescue operation to find the tracks of Dmitry Tishenko.  

The Yurungkash River is extremely treacherous to navigate and has never been conquered. After this attempt failed, rafters say the river remains a serious challenge for those adventurous and brave enough to try.