Dramatic Helicopter Maneuvering Saves Life

TF-GRÓ Icelandic Coast Guard Helicopter

An Icelandic coast guard helicopter likely saved a man’s life last Friday when it flew backwards for five kilometres to Ísafjörður.

The dramatic manoeuvre was needed because of weather conditions in Ísafjörður, and doctors at the National Hospital of Iceland say that the helicopter crew’s decisive action likely saved the man’s life.

This story was first reported by Vísir.

Rough conditions

Conditions were extreme in Ísafjörður when the call for help came to Iceland’s coast guard last Friday, with wind ranging between 35 to 40 m/s, and little to no visibility.

Andri Jóhannesson, helicopter pilot in the coast guard, stated that the mission was one of the most difficult he had been a part of in his 15-year career.

Andri stated to Vísir that when the crew arrived in the Westfjords, wind conditions were so bad that it was not possible to fly straight into Ísafjörður like usual.

With a strong north-northwest wind, it would have been extremely dangerous to fly into the fjord, but nevertheless, the crew tried twice to fly into the fjord at a low altitude. However, the zero-visibility conditions made this impossible.

A hard decision

After these failed attempts, the crew was forced to make a roadside landing in order to assess the situation further.

When the crew took stock of the situation, it was clear that they were running low on fuel. The crew had flown in a stiff headwind all the way from Reykjavík, and the multiple attempts at entering the fjord had forced them to spend more time in the air than they had planned.

The crew would not be able to make it to Bolungarvík, a village near Ísafjörur, and the location of the patient. The crew would be forced to land in Ísafjörður to refuel and pick up the patient there.

Flying with their nose in the wind

Given the conditions, the crew realised they would not be able to fly the usual way, with the wind at their back, as it would be impossible to turn the helicopter to land in Ísafjörður. The decision was made to instead fly with “their nose in the wind,” that is, backwards, for a total of five kilometres.

This, however, was not the end of the drama. Given the low visibility, flight mechanic Árni Freyr had to lead the way. With the back of the helicopter open, Árni directed the final approach of the helicopter. In a harness and partially hanging out of the helicopter, Árni led the crew like this for some 20 minutes.

Upon landing in Ísafjörður and taking on the patient, the helicopter was forced to perform a “hot refuelling,” in which the engine stays on. Given the harsh winds, it may have been impossible to start the rotors again if the engine was turned off during the refuelling process.

A life saved

The patient, who had suffered a heart attack, was immediately sent into surgery upon arrival in Reykjavík, and doctors claim he would have died without the crew’s bravery.

The story, dramatic as it is, highlights the critical role played by emergency services in Iceland. Many remote parts of Iceland become largely inaccessible during the winter. Often, there is only one rescue helicopter on call, and there have been calls to increase funding to the coast guard and search and rescue services.



Kirkjufell Access Ban May be Illegal

kirkjufell iceland

A suggested ban on winter hiking at Mt. Kirkjufell may be illegal, states travel association Útivist.

Following a fatal hiking accident on Mt. Kirkjufell this October, the landowner suggested a ban on hiking during the winter. Mt. Kirkjufell, a mountain known for its iconic shape, has attracted many tourists in recent years, especially since its inclusion on the popular television show, Game of Thrones. The fatality was the third in four years.

In Focus: Privately Owned Tourist Sites


Iceland, like many other nations in Northern Europe, has traditional legal rights known as the freedom to roam in English. These rights grant the public access to lands owned publicly or privately. Notably, these rights exclude economic activities. Many tourist sites have begun charging fees for parking and bathroom infrastructure, leading to a debate between where the line is drawn between these traditional rights and the necessities of mass tourism in Iceland.

The Environment Agency of Iceland states: “Walking is permitted on uncultivated land. However, please avoid taking shortcuts over fenced areas, pastures and private plots. Follow the rules in areas under special wildlife or vegetation protection. Follow marked footpaths, where they exist. These paths make for a safer trip, as well as reduce wear and tear on sensitive natural elements. Landowners may not hinder passage of walkers alongside rivers, lakes and ocean, or on tracks and paths. There should be a gate or style close to any hindrances.”

Read more: Majority of Icelanders Support Tourist Fees


Last week, landowners of Kirkjufell stated that the mountain may be closed to hiking until mid-June. The landowners stated that foreign tourists often do not recognise the dangers posed by the mountain, and decide to hike the popular mountain even in dangerous weather conditions.

The travel association stated its understanding of the landowners’ actions, but stated that other precautions must be taken that still maintain the right to access.

In an official resolution, Útivist stated: “The landowner’s ban on walking on the mountain is not in accordance with the law on public rights. The board points out that it is not possible to put the trips of inexperienced, poorly equipped hikers, who do not know the conditions, and the trips of organized groups […] under the same umbrella. The travel association Útivist has organized trips to Kirkjufell and has always ensured that safety is guaranteed as much as possible. The board of Útivist reiterates its understanding of the actions that the landowners have taken in light of the special circumstances, but at the same time does not consider it a reason to limit the access of well-equipped and trained hiking groups […] In this light, the board of Útivist believes it is important that time be used to find other and more suitable ways to reduce accidents and deaths at Kirkjufell, including by installing information signs about the dangers in frequently visited places.”


Björk’s Fossora Nominated for Grammy in Best Alternative Music

björk grammy

Björk’s latest album, Fossora, has been nominated for the 2023 Grammy awards under the category Best Alternative Music Album.

Fossora, released in September of this year, is Björk’s most recent album-length work since her 2017 album, Utopia. It has been well-received by critics, and concerns topics such as motherhood, loss, and grief.

Other nominations in the category include Arcade Fire, Big Thief, Wet Leg, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Notably, the nomination will be Björk’s 16th Grammy nomination, but she has yet to take home the prestigious American award.

The 65th annual Grammy awards will be broadcast on February 5, 2023.

Check out our recent interview with Björk on her latest album, unlocked for all readers.

British Army Off the Hook for Mining of Rauðhólar

Reykjavík City Airport flugvöllur

New information has come to light regarding the destruction of Rauðhólar, or the Red Hills, a natural area of craters by Elliðavatn lake in the capital area.

Originally, some 80 of these craters stood on the edge of Reykjavík, but their numbers have decreased due to gravel mining. Previously, it had been believed that the British military levelled much of this area for construction material during the Second World War, with some calling this one of Iceland’s first natural disasters of the modern era. However, recent evidence reported by Vísir shows that aerial photographs taken of the area taken shortly after the war prove that this is not the case.

Friðþór Eydal, an author interested in the activities of the British army during the war years, said in a statement to Vísir: “Mining had already begun here before the British started their construction of the Reykjavík airport.” The city of Reykjavík, according to Friðþór, had begun using the site for gravel in road construction before the British arrived.

Much material for the construction of the Reykjavík airport came from Öskjuhlíð, the hillside now home to Perlan, and also Fífuhvammur in Kópavogur. There was indeed gravel from Rauðhólar utilised in the construction of the Reykjavík airport, but the British also took careful records of the amounts removed.

According to Friðþór, the 95,000 cubic metres taken by the British army can’t account for the total damage done to the Rauðhólar area. Additionally, the new photographic evidence taken in 1946 still shows the area as largely in tact.

The largest part of Rauðhólar then must have been taken after the war, by the city of Reykjavík itself.

The area was mined for gravel up until 1961, when it was given protected status.