Last Friday, the Coast Guard’s helicopter was mobilised to retrieve a woman trapped at the former viewpoint over the Fagradalsfjall eruption. The hill is now enclosed by lava, and authorities have warned the public not to cross the new lava field. As three months have passed since the eruption ended, the local search-and-rescue squad decided to investigate if the lava field was safe enough for them to cross on foot but found that the new lava’s surface was still unstable and dangerous.
After crossing the new lava field to reach the hill that formerly served as a viewpoint over the eruption, the woman didn’t feel up to returning the same way she came and requested emergency assistance.
In a Facebook post, members of the Þorbjörn squad state that ever since the eruption began, they’ve been asking people to refrain from walking on the new lava, as it’s unstable and dangerous. On December 31, more than three months after the eruption stopped, they decided to investigate if it was safe to walk on the lava to rescue the trapped person.
They chose a part of the new lava field where they would have to go as short a distance as possible and where the new lava was not very thick. Armed with a powerful thermograph and pinch bars, the group carefully entered the new lava field. After only a few meters, they found the area unsafe and requested the Coast Guard’s helicopter’s assistance in the rescue mission.
During their short expedition, they found that the surface of the new lava field was very unstable and fragile. There’s an acute danger of stepping through the surface, which could release a dangerous amount of heat. In addition to burn injuries, travellers risk cutting their ankles or calf on the rock’s sharp edges.
They also noted that there’s no way of knowing where tunnels or caves have formed underneath the surface. While there’s seismic activity in the area, these tunnels or caves are liable to collapse without warning.
Even though it’s been more than three months since the eruption ended, there’s still a great deal of heat on the surface. The thermograph detected temperatures of over 200°c [392°f].
In light of these discoveries, the search-and-rescue squad has announced that they will not be crossing the lava field to rescue trapped travellers. If people cross the new lava and get into accidents, they will only be able to be rescued by helicopter.