Two missing Russians canoeists rescued in China

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BEIJING, Sep 21 (Reuters) Rescue teams today found two members of a missing Russian canoeing expedition who had survived for nearly three weeks without food in remote gorges in western China.

Television pictures showed one survivor, Alexander Zverev, bearded and looking thin and dazed as he stepped out of Chinese military helicopter after being rescued. He still wore his white canoeing helmet and a yellow and blue waterproof jacket.

Zverev told Russian TV station Vesti-24 by telephone he believed all five of his teammates had died in the accident when they were swept into the river. But hours later Russia's emergencies ministry said another survivor, 28-year-old Andrei Pautov, had been found.

In his interview Zverev said both the expedition's canoes capsized, throwing the crews into the turbulent river.

''A man cannot fight that water for a long time. He manages to fight for a few minutes and then his strength disappears,'' Zverev said. ''Then only a miracle can save him.'' First the canoe carrying two people capsized, Zverev said. The following four-man canoe saw the capsized raft too late and all they could do was scoop the two bodies out of the water and lay them out on a river bank.

Still days from help, they relaunched their canoe, but it too capsized.

Zverev said he believed he had survived because the canoe threw him clear of the foaming water and onto a bank.

The Russians started their canoe trip along the Yurungkax River in Xinjiang province in mid-August but failed to meet their Chinese interpreter in Hotan as planned on Sept. 2, and the alarm was raised.

Rescuers found three bodies last weekend.

The stretch of river the team was navigating was remote and uncharted, Zverev said. ''It was clear to me from the first day that we would not be able to complete our chosen route.

''This was the most difficult section of the river, and if the tragedy had not happened when it did it would have happened the next day,'' he said.

For 20 days, Zverev lived without food in a cave and climbed to the top of the ravine each day to try and catch the attention of the rescuers he knew would be searching for the team.

''You're all excellent,'' he said at the end of the telephone interview, his voice trailing off. ''Hello country, I love you all.'' REUTERS ARB AS1928

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