Passport Martha Holmes: 'Adrift on an ice floe for 20 hours with storms raging and whiteness everywhere'

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The Independent Travel
"We were camping on the edge of the Lancaster Sound, which is a part of northern Canada, when the ice floe just broke off," remembers Martha Holmes.

While filming the episode called Polar Bears for the BBC's Wildlife Special series, her passport clocked up many stamps for that icy part of the world, as well as a few adventures along the way.

On one rather memorable June day last year, she was out filming with cameraman, Doug, when she heard their Innuit guide, Shooyook, shouting that the ice was cracking.

"He just managed to jump over the widening crack on to his skidoo [motorised sledge] to join us," Martha recalls, "but that left us adrift on a floe floating out into the middle of the ocean. It was absolutely terrifying."

They managed to radio for help, but freezing rain had grounded all the local rescue planes. "All we could see was this flat white sheet of ice we were standing on - about two to three square kilometres in size - drifting away from the mountains of the mainland. There were raging storms and everything was white except for the inky-black of the sea around us."

"I thought about death," Martha admits. "I realised that I didn't mind if I died, and after that, I was quite calm. Doug was feeling pretty shook up about it though."

As they waited, a whole network of local Innuits - used to keeping in touch with each other during long hunting expeditions out on the ice - radioed regular messages of assurance to the three of them.

It was 20 hours before they were airlifted to safety by a light aircraft. But more drama wasn't far away. Just one month later, Martha's passport shows another trip to North Hudson Bay in order to film more scenes for Polar Bears. "I was woken up in my tent by a strange growling sound, crunching on the gravel, and then a huffing noise. I lay deathly still. Whatever it was out there, it was probably dangerous. Then I dared to look out and I saw a tiny baby polar bear cub." Knowing the mother wouldn't be far away, Martha kept still and alerted her companions.

"The guys in the other tent started yelling to frighten them off." It did, but an hour later, Martha heard a tremendous roaring noise, a ripping of canvas, then gunshot fire. The mother bear had returned, got caught in the guy ropes and lunged at the canvas, tearing it. Someone had fired a shot in order to scare her off. And what does Martha Holmes do in her holiday leisure time? A spot of sunbathing, or a gentle stroll on the Riviera? "Oh no, I sometimesgoon safari in Africa, or I love to go skiing. I like a spot of mountain climbing, too." Phew!

Wildlife Specials: 'Polar Bears' is showing on BBC1 on 27 November at 7.55pm.

Your papers, please

Date of Birth: 22 January 1961

Place of Birth: Libya

Occupation: TV producer/presenter