Do hurricanes ever hit Iceland?

Waves crashing over Reykjavík lighthouse

The short answer is no. However, the remnants of hurricanes do occasionally make their way up to Iceland. For the most part, by the time they arrive in Iceland, they’re reduced to pressure systems that just bring larger-than-average amounts of rain, but they do sometimes cause more damage. Hurricanes form in unstable air over open […]

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Play Flight Forced to Make Emergency Landing Due to Unruly Passenger

iceland budget airline play

A flight operated by the Icelandic airline PLAY was forced to land in Canada on the way to Baltimore, Maryland in the US to remove an unruly passenger, RÚV and mbl.is report. This is the first time since beginning operations in 2019 that PLAY has had to make an emergency landing due to a passenger disturbance.

Icelandic flight crews are, luckily well-versed in dealing with flugdólgar, or ‘air hooligans,’ and no one was injured in the incident.

“This isn’t the first time that something has come up onboard [a PLAY flight],” confirmed Nadine Guðrún Yaghi, the PR officer for the airline. “But it is the first time that we’ve had to land somewhere because of it.” She continued by saying that the passenger had started by being belligerent and noisy. The flight crew followed all the correct procedures—passengers sitting near the man were relocated, for instance—but the situation escalated to a point where the only viable option was an emergency landing. The incident went as well as it could have, Nadine said, given the circumstances.

According to an announcement issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the flight landed in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada shortly after 5:00 PM. The air hooligan in question, a 33-year-old American man, was removed from the flight and arrested. He will be charged with assaulting a crew member, as well as “Mischief over $5,000,” i.e., “interference of the flight causing the emergency landing.” He is also being charged under Canada’s Aeronautics Act “for engaging in behaviours that endangered the safety or security of an aircraft and its passengers while in flight.” PLAY is also expected to bring charges against him.

Sunken Truck Recovered from Arctic Expedition

arctic trucks salvage expedition

This Sunday, August 28, rescue divers and helicopter teams salvaged a truck from the Arctic Ocean that had been lost on an expedition last March.

The original expedition and subsequent salvage mission was organized by Transglobal Car Expedition, but Icelandic company Arctic Trucks was also involved and present for both.

The truck in question was lost this March it fell through the ice on an expedition, which was an attempt to drive from Yellowknife, Canada to Resolute Bay. The trip was training for a larger expedition around the world, but it was cut short when one of the trucks was lost to the ice. Luckily, all of the crew escaped safely.

However, local communities critiqued the expedition operator, and said that the truck threatened to pollute traditional fishing grounds.

Emil Grímsson, a representative for the expedition, said in a statement that although they did not want to minimize concerns over potential pollution, that they would have to wait for suitable conditions to salvage the truck.

The conditions were finally right last week, and the truck was successfully lifted from its resting place, 15m beneath the sea. Due to unfavorable water currents, dive teams working in coordination with a helicopter only had several short windows in which to carry out the operation.

In a public post on their Facebook, Arctic Trucks stated: “Two boats were first launched to explore the area and locate the AT44. The diving team then began inspecting the vehicle underwater. Despite initially strong currents and rapid ice movement nearby, subsequent good weather conditions, clear water and superb visibility in the Arctic Ocean aided swift progress. After carefully attaching the lines and flotation bags, the truck (still upside down) was carefully moved to a shallower depth, before being turned onto its wheels and pulled onshore. The team were also able to recover all the equipment and personal items from the vehicle.”

After the fourth attempt, the truck was finally lifted onto land, as can be seen in the dramatic photographs above.

Upon recovering the vehicle, Arctic Trucks stated: “The vehicle will now be made ready for loading onto the next available sealift vessel to Montreal. The safe and successful completion of this recovery operation left the site in pristine condition, preserving the beautiful yet fragile Arctic ecosystem.”

The truck is considered a total loss after nearly a half year under water.

In addition to the salvage teams, local residents were present as well. In a statement, a team member called it a privilege to work with them, and that it was an honor to be shown their camps and hunting grounds that stretch back for hundreds of years.

Tourist Dies at Reynisfjara, Group Caught by Waves in the Same Spot the Next Day

Reynisfjara black sand beach

A tourist died on Friday after being swept out to sea by a wave at Reynisfjara beach, just outside Vík í Mýrdal in South Iceland. RÚV reports that the man, who was in his eighties, was in the ocean for about an hour before he could be rescued and was dead by the time the Coast Guard helicopter was able to reach him.

The victim was from Canada and part of a larger tour group with his wife, who was also caught by the same wave. The tour guide was able to grab the woman and drag her to safety, but her husband was not so lucky. Rescue teams from South Iceland and the Westman Islands were called to the scene, as well as the Coast Guard. Conditions at sea were quite dangerous, however, with very high winds that prevented the Coast Guard helicopter from reaching the man for an hour.

The Red Cross’ trauma team was called in to provide services for the woman and her travel companions.

Believed they could swim ashore

Only a day later, a group of foreign tourists, including a family from Germany, were swept up in a wave in the same spot where the Canadian couple was caught on Friday. No one was seriously injured, but apparently, the group believed they could swim back to land if they were caught by the waves.

The upsetting incident was witnessed by tour guide Hrafnhildur Faulk.

Hrafnhildur saw six people get swept off their feet. Five managed to pull themselves to safety quickly; the last man lingered. “I was waiting for him to get up and run,” recounted Hrafnhildur, but the man stayed in the surf, looking for his glasses in the sand.

“He seemed pretty unphased, considering,” she continued. “I think I would have been more alarmed.”

Hrafnhildur said that she frequently sees people putting themselves in harm’s way on the shore at Reynisfjara, even running into the waves with small children. “Naturally, you run over and intervene,” she said. “But unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

An all-too common occurrence

There have been many drownings at Reynisfjara over the years when visitors, generally foreign tourists, are swept into the ocean by powerful “sneaker waves.” In May, a Spanish tourist nearly drowned after intentionally wading into the surf to have photos taken, but thankfully, he was able to pull himself to shore. Last November, a young Chinese woman was not so lucky. Between 2007 and 2019, three people drowned at the popular beach.

That year, the government began to conduct a risk assessment and closed part of the beach, although many visitors ignored the closure. Much of the beach remains open, although with prominent warnings and explanations of the very real danger posed by the sneaker waves are posted in several languages.

A ‘Stab in the Back’: Arctic Trucks Vehicle Sinks in Inuit Hunting Grounds

Transglobal Car Expedition, an Arctic expedition crewed by team members from Iceland, Ukraine, Russia, Canada, and the US, has issued an apology to Inuit communities in Taloyoak, Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory which is independently governed by Inuit peoples. The apology comes after one of the teams modified Ford F150s, provided by Icelandic company Arctic Trucks, sank through the ice while crossing the Tasmania Islands at the end of March. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reports that indigenous hunters and trappers in the area are concerned that the truck, which contained 40-litres of fuel, as well as other fluid and a back-up generator, is going to leak and contaminate an ecosystem that the local communities depend on for their sustenance and livelihood.

Emil Grimsson, the founder of Arctic Trucks and one of the Icelandic members of the team, says that they are “very sorry” for what’s happened, and that it’s “very likely” that the sunken truck will be recovered, but that nothing will be done to retrieve it until the end of May, after doing a risk, cost and permit assessment.

The incident feels like “a stab in the back” says Jimmy Oleekatalik, manager of the Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Association, as the area where the truck currently rests on the ocean floor is a major migration route for beluga whales, narwhals, seals, walruses, and Arctic char.

“We live off the land,” Oleekatalik continued. “We’re not farmers. We’re hunters and gatherers, and we need our game to be clean. We want [the wreckage] cleaned out as quickly as possible.”

‘No way for us to expect for it to change that much’

The expedition has claimed to be the “first-ever overland wheeled journey from the continental shelf of North America to the High Arctic,” and was staging a month-long ‘pre-run’ from Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, to Resolute Bay in Nunavut, prior to the full expedition that was set to take place next year and would travel from the southern tip of South America to the North Pole and then down through Greenland, mainland Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The team made it to Resolute with their modified F150s and amphibious vehicles, and then some members turned back around with the goal of returning the F150s to Yellowknife. They did not, however, bring their ice thickness scanner, but chose instead to rely on data they’d gathered days before, which showed that the ice they’d be driving over was 50 cm [20 in] thick. In reality, however, it was only 15 cm [6 in] thick.

One of the trucks stopped mid-journey and began to sink through the ice. Icelandic team member Torfi Johansson had just enough time to warn the other truck over radio before he and his fellow passenger, a hunter hired to protect the group from polar bears, piled out a side door. Torfi had time to pull bags containing clothes and shelter from the truck before it fully submerged and then he and his three companions huddled in the remaining vehicle until daylight, ready to leap out should their second truck also begin to sink. They were eventually rescued by helicopter.

“We were [there] just five days ago,” Torfi was quoted as saying. “No way for us to expect for it to change that much, in that amount of time.”

‘We could have advised them’

Aside from understandable concerns about pollution from the sunken truck, one of the local community’s main points of dismay is precisely that there was, in fact, a way for the team to have known about the danger that the ice thickness would change that quickly. The incident would have been entirely avoidable, they say, if only the Transglobal Car team had consulted them.

The Tasmania Islands are incredibly dangerous at this time of year, Oleekatalik explained to CBC, because the water current below the ice flows really fast. “We could have at least advised them of areas where there’s fast water and open polynyas or places where it’s dangerous to travel,” said Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Association chairperson Joe Ashevak. “[We] could at least tell them that some areas of [the] ocean is unsafe for heavy vehicles to travel on.”

“They should have consulted with us,” continued Oleekatalik, who said that the local community would have even provided a guide. “This is our hunting ground. This is our livelihood. This is what we know.”

Environmental concerns ‘a bit overestimated’

Even prior to the sinking of the truck in Nunavut, the Transglobal Car Expedition had made headlines for questionable choices made in the trip’s execution from the get-go. The crew flew into Yellowknife on a Russian charter flight at the start of March. This was a violation of airspace regulations in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Transport Canada fined a Russian team member responsible for chartering the plane, as well as its two pilots and the aircraft operator.

Emil Grimsson said that unexpected challenges had distracted the team from better planning and research while in Yellowknife. “We could have done better,” he said. “The thing we need to do is learn, we need to know who to talk to.”

He also maintained that the indigenous community’s concerns about contamination from fuel leakage were perhaps “a bit overestimated” and said he believed that the vehicle could be expected to leak “less than a litre” of fuel over the course of several years.

“[The truck] is at a depth of six to eight metres [20-26 ft] and it looks as good right now as you could hope for,” Emil explained to RÚV. “We learned a lot from this and want to have a good collaboration with the hunting association in every way. Today, there’s a 99% chance that this will be resolved without their concerns becoming a reality.”

Nothing will be done with the vehicle for now, however: “We’re not going to do anything until the ice is gone.”

Travel Restrictions for 15 Countries Soon to Be Lifted

Icelandair airplane

The Icelandic authorities plan on lifting travel restrictions for residents of 15 countries outside the Schengen Area within the next few days. Once the regulation is adopted, citizens from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other “safe” countries will be free to travel to Iceland.

Preregistration, PCR tests and quarantine

According to current regulations (586/2020 from June 15), EU/Schengen citizens and residents are free to travel to Iceland provided that they preregister before arriving and undergo a PCR test or a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

As announced by a bulletin posted yesterday, the government of Iceland will soon lift travel restrictions for residents of fifteen states outside the EU/Schengen Area. The announcement follows on the heels of a decision made by the EU. Once the new regulation comes into effect, the following countries will be granted an exemption from travel restrictions to Iceland (the list will be reviewed at least every two weeks):

Algeria
Australia
Canada
Georgia
Japan
Montenegro
Morocco
New Zealand
Rwanda
Serbia
South Korea
Thailand
Tunisia
Uruguay
China (subject to confirmation of reciprocity)

All passengers arriving from these states must complete pre-registration and choose to undergo a PCR test or a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Iceland.

“Safe” countries

As noted by the EU Council, the decision to ease travel restrictions for the abovementioned countries was based on a number of scientific factors:

  • The number of new COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days and per 100,000 inhabitants is close to or below the EU average (as it stood on 15 June 2020).
  • A stable or decreasing trend of new cases over this period in comparison to the previous 14 days.
  • The overall response to COVID-19 taking into account available information, including on aspects such as testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment and reporting, as well as the reliability of the information and, if needed, the total average score for International Health Regulations (IHR). Information provided by EU delegations on these aspects should also be taken into account.

A Very Small Minority of Icelanders Immune to COVID-19

New data provided by deCODE Genetics shows that .9% of the Icelandic nation has antibodies for the COVID-19 virus, RÚV reports. The data excludes people who are currently infected with the virus or under quarantine.

Kári Stefánsson, the CEO of deCODE, explained that the data indicates that the vast majority of Icelanders is still susceptible to the COVID-19 virus. “A very small minority has become immune to the virus,” he remarked, “such that if we have a resurgence of infections, we’ll have to respond very quickly and decisively.”

DeCODE is currently working with Canadian scientists to try and create antibodies for the COVID-19 virus. Kári says the experiments have been enjoyable thus far. In theory, this involves isolating “[w]hite blood cells, which create antibodies in patients…We’ll then take proteins from the virus to make the selection and make antibodies that the white blood cells have formed, replicate it, and use to make antibodies in really large quantities.”

Kári said that he had no doubt that they would eventually succeed in making antibodies, but that it was simply a question of how long the process would take.

Western promises

While most people today are very much aware of Europe’s exploration and colony building in what was optimistically called the New World, you would be forgiven for not knowing that Icelanders founded a self-governing colony in the Americas as well. New Iceland was established on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba in the late 19th century, beginning with the settlement of Gimli, named after “the most beautiful place on Earth” in Norse mythology. It is estimated that nearly 25% of the entire population of Iceland emigrated to North America over the four decades that followed.

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Government Pledges to Strengthen Manitoba’s Icelandic Studies Program

The Icelandic government has pledged to strengthen the Icelandic Department at the University of Manitoba by developing deeper connections between that institution and the University of Iceland’s Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies. Mbl.is reports that among other steps taken, a lecturer position in Icelandic literature will be established at the University of Manitoba which will be partially funded by the Office of the Prime Minister in Iceland.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced the collaboration on Thursday during a speech at the Veröld, the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages. During her talk, Katrín recalled her trip last year to Manitoba, where many Icelanders emigrated in the late 19th century. She said the trip had made clear to her what a strong connection Canadians with Icelandic ancestry (often known as West Icelanders) have to their Icelandic heritage.

The new lecturer will teach two classes on Icelandic literature in the Icelandic department at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, as well as advise graduate students in the department, and oversee a summer exchange program at the University of Iceland. The lecturer will also oversee possible research projects and publications in connection with the literary and cultural heritage of Icelandic emigrants and their descendants in North America.

Prime Minister Guest of Honor at Icelandic Heritage Celebrations in North America

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and her husband Gunnar Sigvaldason will be the guests of honor at two Icelandic heritage celebrations held in Gimli, Manitoba (Canada) and Mountain, North Dakota (US) this weekend, RÚV reports.

Dubbed “New Iceland” by Icelandic settlers who started settling there in 1875, the town of Gimli is home to the largest population of people of Icelandic descent outside of Iceland. Islendingadagurinn, the town’s annual Icelandic Festival, is taking place for the 129th time this year and includes a Viking Village with 100 re-enactors who “live like authentic 800 A.D. period Vikings on the Harbour Park Hill during the festival and will ‘battle’ each day,” as well as music, children’s activities, Icelandic food and beer, and more.

The Deuce of August, Islendingadagurinn’s sister celebration in Mountain, North Dakota, will be held for the 112th time this year. The event quadruples the town’s population of 130 and offers free genealogical research, as well as a full schedule of cultural events. Mountain is also home to Vikur Lutheran Church, which was established in 1880 and is said to be the oldest Icelandic church in North America. Katrín will be taking part in the festival’s morning parade this year and will be the Keynote Speaker at the event’s Heritage Program.

Read more about ‘West Icelanders’ and their heritage celebrations on the BBC website here.