The Icelandic Coast Guard helicopter and rescue teams were called out last night to search for a man near the eruption area who had sent a distress signal to a passing aeroplane. The man was subsequently found, cold and exhausted.
SOS signal sent near Litli-Hrútur
At around 8.30 PM yesterday, pilot Ernir Snær Bjarnason, flying a small private plane over Litli-Hrútur – the site of a former eruption site on the Reykjanes peninsula (and not far from the site of the current eruption) – spotted an SOS signal.
Ernir informed a control tower, which then relayed the information to the operations centre in Suðurnes. Jón Þór Víglundsson, a spokesperson for Landsbjörg, told Vísir yesterday that the SOS signal may have been sent from a phone, possibly using a dedicated smartphone app (Ernir later stated that he believed the man had used a flashlight):
“The signal involves a sequence of light flashes: three short, three long, and three short bursts, with brief pauses in between. This sequence is recognized internationally as an SOS signal,” Jón Þór explained yesterday.
Two people initially believed to have sent the signal
Following this alert, the helicopter of the Icelandic Coast Guard, alongside a sizeable rescue team, was deployed to the area, which had experienced frost and a significant drop in temperature. Meanwhile, Ernir and his copilot circled above the distress signal for an hour, or until the helicopter swooped down to rescue the man.
At ca. 9.30 PM yesterday, Ásgeir Erlendsson, a spokesperson for the Icelandic Coast Guard, confirmed that the man had been located between Keilir and Kistufell. The man was cold and exhausted and transported back to Reykjavik for medical care. He had left his equipment behind with flashing lights, which initially led to the belief that there were two people who had sent the SOS signal.
In an interview published on Vísir just before midnight yesterday, Ernir stated that the Icelandic Coast Guard had conjectured that the man would likely have died from exposure had Ernir not spotted the SOS signal.