A crewmember on board the freezing trawler Örfirisey RE suffered a heart attack on 5th December and it took a coastguard helicopter some three hours to come and get him, because the helicopter had been on a mission for the civil protection agency at the Bárðarbunga volcano site.
“What we’re unhappy about is that this is a rescue helicopter. Though they may be doing good projects, there simply must be a rescue helicopter available for when there are accidents or someone becomes seriously ill. It’s a real lack of security,” captain of Örfirisey RE, Trausti Egilsson told Vísir.
Had the helicopter been at home in Reykjavík it would have taken an hour to rescue the heart attack victim on-board, but as it was at the eruption site on a special project it needed to first go and drop its passengers off in Akureyri before starting the rescue mission. As a result, when the emergency call for help came in at 12.40, it took three hours and the helicopter did not reach the ship until 15.30—getting to Landspítali hospital in Reykjavík at 17.00.
The ship had a defibrillator on board and oxygen, and so the man was able to be kept alive. Despite starting far out to sea, the ship was already at the mouth of Önundarfjörður fjord headed for the Westfjords village of Flateyri when the helicopter finally arrived.
A representative of the coastguard responded to the complaint, saying that the volcano project is part of the coastguard’s legal obligation and not to be considered an extra project at all. She added that there was a second backup helicopter available on the day from the Danish navy vessel Triton. In this case, however, the Danish helicopter would not have reached the scene any sooner.
There was not a second Icelandic helicopter and crew on standby that day due to financial restraints.
The fishing captain was not convinced, saying the situation is not unlike if Reykjavík ambulances started moonlighting as taxis, adding that situations like that are extremely time sensitive.