Two Belgian tourists were rescued from Vatnajökull-glacier last Saturday night. Temperatures dropped to -20 C° and conditions on the glacier were windy. The wind chill factor meant that temperatures were closer to around -35 C°.
The Coast Guard received the first emergency signal after 10 pm Saturday night. A rescue team with two cars and four snowmobiles was sent from Hornafjörður and the Coast Guard’s helicopter was sent from Reykjavík. Due to the cold, all the rescue workers who drove the snowmobiles to the scene suffered from minor frostbite to their faces, despite being very well equipped.
Jónas Friðriksson, chairman of Hornafjörður rescue team, said that it was like a clip from a movie when the light beams from the cars and the helicopter crossed paths and almost simultaneously spotted a red tent. He also commented that he believes this was the coldest weather he has ever had to work in.
The tent was ripped and the two men were therefore very cold when they were found. A man was lowered down from the helicopter to get the two tourists. One of the men emerged from the tent immediately but the other man lay in the tent, barely conscious, and did not fully regain consciousness until he was in the helicopter. They were then flown to Hornafjörður where they landed just before 2 am. The people involved in the rescue believed that the two Belgians would not have survived the night in this cold weather in the damaged tent.
The tourists prepared their journey to the glacier very well, which was one of the reasons that the rescue went so well. The men are both experienced climbers and were equipped with all the essential clothing and gadgets for this sort of journey. According to the Coast Guard, the tourists borrowed an emergency transmitter from the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue before they left and handed in a travel schedule. When the weather got worse, they turned on the emergency transmitter. When rescue teams arrived at the scene, they could see the tourists’ location easily using night vision goggles.
This story was covered by all the major media in Iceland today and yesterday.
Click here to view a video from the rescue scene, published by ruv.is.