Flights Cancelled, Passengers Unable to Disembark Due to High Winds

Gale-force winds and heavy snowshowers caused considerable disruptions for travellers on Sunday, Mbl.is and RÚV report. While most international flights were cancelled or delayed before they departed, however, eight flights from North America were already en route to Keflavík when the weather took a turn for the worst. The unfortunate passengers on seven of these flights were stuck in their planes for six or more hours, as it was too windy to use jet bridges for disembarkation.

On Sunday, the Met Office issued an orange warning for the west and southwest of Iceland, which experienced winds of 18-28 m/s [40-62 mph]; a yellow warning was issued for the rest of the country, where winds gusted at an ever-so-slightly calmer 18-25 m/s [40-55 mph].

Search and Rescue teams used a bus and another large vehicle to shelter an external stairway from the wind. Image via Lögreglan á Suðurnesjum, FB

Eight hundred passengers stranded in planes on runway

Eight airplanes transporting close to 800 passengers from North America landed at Keflavík on Sunday morning around 6:00 am. One of these planes, arriving from Newark, New Jersey, was able to disembark without issue. The other seven were not so lucky. The wind picked up and became too strong to allow for the use of jet bridges. Search and Rescue teams were called in to assist with the disembarking process.

As of 1:00 pm, only one plane’s passengers had been able to exit their aircraft. Search and Rescue teams managed to successfully evacuate the flight, which had flown in from Miami, Florida, by rolling an external stairway up to the pane, sheltering it from the wind with large vehicles, and rigging up a rope system to help passengers keep their balance as they went out into the frosty gusts.

At time of writing, Search and Rescue teams were still working diligently to evacuate the remaining airplanes, and do so as safely as possible.

Twenty Rescued from Ski Lift in High Winds

Twenty people were rescued from a chairlift at the Hlíðarfjall ski area outside Akureyri on Friday afternoon, RÚV reports. The lift stalled when the wire was blown off its spool by a strong blast of wind, stranding about 20 people mid-air for close to two hours. Luckily, the area’s Search and Rescue crew was able to get everyone to safety and no one was injured in the process.

Weather conditions are assessed at ski areas every day to determine if it’s safe to open. But while conditions weren’t ideal at Hlíðarfjall on Friday, the wind wasn’t initially so strong that it was thought unsafe to ski and snowboard. By the afternoon, however, the weather had taken a turn for the worse.

From noon, the wind started to pick up again, and it was decided to stop letting people in the lift at 12:30,” explained a post on the Hlíðarfjall Facebook page. “There were still 21 people on the lift. Our chairlifts have built-in wind protection that slows down and stops the lift at certain wind speeds. An attempt was made to drive the lift slowly backwards in the hope of evacuating it, but as the wind continued to increase, it did not work and the lift came to a complete stop.

The Súlur Search and Rescue team used special equipment to rescue those who had been stranded on the chairlift in high winds. Image via the Hlíðarfjall Akureyri Facebook page.

It was then that Search and Rescue and police were called, explained Hlíðarfjall director Brynjar Helgi Ásgeirson. Ski area staff regularly train in ski lift rescues, but the wind, which had reached 20 m/s [44.7 mph], made the process much more difficult.

Luckily, everyone on the lift was back on the ground within two hours of it stopping. Australian Andrew Davis was one of those rescued from the lift. He told reporters that everyone who was stuck kept calm, and no one seemed to be in too bad a shape, though the wind was battering them about.

Andrew said he did consider jumping from the lift, as he was confident he could have stuck the landing. But in the end, he decided to wait it out, and saluted the Search and Rescue team for their fast work. Two 13-year-old girls were also amongst the stranded, but Bynjar Helgi said they were “quite upbeat” when they made it back to the ground.

After the rescue, those who had been stranded were offered trauma counselling, although no one chose to take it. What everyone did want, however, was the hot chocolate that ski area staff had waiting for them. “After a short while and some hot cocoa, people were smiling and putting this down to experience,” said Brynjar Helgi.

Hlíðarfjall was closed on Saturday due to unsafe weather conditions. To check current conditions and look at the area’s web cams (in English), see the Hlíðarfjall website, here.