Three New Rescue Ships for ICE-SAR

Jóhannes Briem ICE-SAR ship search and rescue

Three new rescue ships have been added to Iceland’s Search and Rescue organisation ICE-SAR’s fleet recently, including the Jóhannes Briem. The latter ship’s home port is Reykjavík, where it was handed over to ICE-SAR team Ársæll on Saturday. ICE-SAR is working on renewing its fleet to improve accident prevention and response across Iceland.

Jóhannes Briem was built in Finland at the Kewatec shipyards. It has a cruising speed of up to 30 nautical miles and is powered by two powerful Scania diesel engines and worm drives. It contains state-of-the-art equipment including a thermal camera and side-scan sonar, as well as having better crew equipment than the association’s older ships.

Jóhannes Briem is the third ship of its kind acquired by ICE-SAR recently, with the other two going to search and rescue teams in Flateyri, in the Westfjords and Húsavík, North Iceland.

At Jóhannes Briem’s handover, ICE-SAR announced it had already ordered a fourth ship, which is to be based in Snæfellsnes, West Iceland.

Grounded Research Vessel in Westfjords Successfully Refloated

A research vessel that ran aground in Tálknafjörður at around 10 PM last night has been refloated. An investigation into the incident is underway.

Weather conditions calm and favourable

At 9:12 PM yesterday, a report was received by the Coast Guard control centre that the research vessel Bjarni Sæmundsson, of the Marine & Freshwater Research Institute, had run aground at Sveinseyri, Tálknafjörður in the Westfjords of Iceland.

The Coast Guard’s helicopter unit, along with the rescue vessel from the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR), and other ships, were dispatched to the scene. There were twenty people on board when the ship ran aground. For maximum safety, it was decided to reduce the number of passengers on board, and thus, eight passengers were evacuated.

The Coast Guard’s helicopter was on standby at Tálknafjörður. The weather conditions at the grounding site were calm and favourable. With the aid of the rescue ship Vörður, along with fishing vessels Fosnafjord and Fosnakongen, the ship was refloated at 11:26 PM during high tide and subsequently moved to a pier in Tálknafjörður. An investigation into the circumstances of the grounding is being conducted by the Transport Accident Investigation Committee (RNSA).

Firefighting Efforts Continue at Reykjanes Eruption

litli hrútur eruption 2023

Authorities announced today that the Meradalaleið (Hiking Trail E) would be closed so that firefighting teams could transport equipment. The eruption site was still accessible from Suðurstrandarvegur (the South Coast Road). Meradalaleið has since been reopened.

RÚV reports that tanker trucks will be employed for the first time today. Previously, water had been transported to the eruption site by helicopter.

The new tankers will be of great use to the teams at the site, able to transport some eight to ten thousand litres of water per trip. The helicopter previously in use had only been able to carry one to two thousand litres per trip.

Einar Sveinn Jónsson, the chief of the Grindavík Fire Department, stated to RÚV:

“We are heading up the mountain and are planning to try to tackle this with the tankers. We have about six to eight vehicles shuttling water up, in addition to personnel and shovels to help if we need to clear stones. It’s a major operation today.”

So far, some 400 hectares (988 acres) of moss have been destroyed by wildfires in the area.

The Grindavík Fire Department is also receiving significant assistance from both ICE-SAR and neighbouring fire departments.

Lone Hiker Rescued Near Þakgil, South Iceland

Þakgil

Emergency responders received a distress call from a trapped tourist who had deviated from the trail near Þakgil, South Iceland. The hiker was guided back to Þakgil with the assistance of local rescue teams.

Cold but safe

At 8.30 PM yesterday, emergency responders received a distress call from a trapped tourist who had deviated from the trail while hiking near Þakgil, south of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in South Iceland.

Rescue teams from Vík í Mýrdal and Álftaver were subsequently dispatched.

As noted in a press release from ICE-SAR (the Icelandic Association for Search, Rescue, and Injury Prevention), it took some time for the rescuers to reach Þakgil due to challenging road conditions.

After searching from different directions the rescuers located the man after 10 PM. He had become cold but had found a safe spot. The rescuers then provided assistance in guiding him back to Þakgil.

Vital to Prevent Travellers from Hiking Near Glymur in Winter

glymur tourist death

The Director General of the Icelandic Tourist Board has stated that more needs to be done to prevent tourists from hiking up to the Glymur waterfall during wintertime. In an interview with Vísir, he stated that a meeting would be called with landowners, representatives of the municipality, and the local police, among others, in order to discuss measures to ensure the safety of travellers in the area.

First recorded death near the waterfall

As reported earlier this week, a woman in her thirties died after suffering a two-hundred-metre fall near the waterfall Glymur, in Hvalfjörður, West Iceland. Conditions near the waterfall were reportedly dangerous, and the accident is currently under investigation. Following the young woman’s death, many people have called for the authorities to better ensure the safety of travellers at popular tourist destinations.

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Jón Þór Víglundsson, Public Relations Officer with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (Landsbjörg), stated that conditions near the Glymur waterfall, vis-a-vis the safety of travellers, were “seriously lacking.” Jón Þór also called for improvements in “a broader context,” encouraging the government to roll up its sleeves and improve safety on roads.

Interested parties to meet

Arnar Már Ólafsson, Director General of the Icelandic Tourist Board, agrees with Jón Þór’s assessment; the safety of tourists in Iceland needs to be widely reviewed.

“It is necessary to act in all contexts where the safety of tourists is deemed to be lacking. For example, in this area in question during wintertime, the hiking trail up to the Glymur waterfall on the east side of the river is very dangerous. There’s a log of wood that straddles the river, intended to make the crossing of the river easier, but that log is removed in the fall – because people are not expected to hike there during winter. There is also an information sign at the parking lot warning people not to hike in the area during wintertime. But we need to look at this even more closely and try to prevent people from hiking there during the winter.”

Arnar Már stated that it was imperative that the authorities acted quickly.

“I’m going to convene all the involved parties – the landowners, municipalities, the rescue society in Akranes, the West Iceland police, and ICE-SAR – so that we can discuss what needs to be done in order to promote increased safety in the area.”

Tourist Falls to Her Death at Glymur

glymur tourist death

A foreign tourist fell to her death yesterday morning, March 22, at Glymur, a popular waterfall and hiking area in Hvalfjörður.

Glymur is a popular hiking destination, notable as the second-tallest waterfall in Iceland. An accessible day hike during the summer, conditions are very different during the winter, with ice and steep slopes along the gorge making for treacherous going.

According to Morgunblaðið, the woman was on a hike with her partner when she slipped and fell off the edge into the gorge, dying instantly. She was in her 20s.

ICE-SAR stated: “The operation was difficult and demanding, as there was a lot of ice in the gorge, and there were concerns of a collapse over the rescue team. Unfortunately, the woman was dead by the time ICE-SAR arrived.”

In addition to ICE-SAR teams, police were also on the scene.

Fatal Accident on Mt. Kirkjufell

A similar death occurred last fall, when a tourist fell to their death from Mt. Kirkjufell, a popular mountain on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

The deaths have raised questions about restricting access to these sites and the legality of such restrictions. In Iceland, all land is covered by a “right to wander,” meaning that individuals may pass through areas at will, as long they do not stay overnight or economically exploit it without permission, such as by fishing or hunting.

Regarding the recent accident, Margrét Björk Björnsdóttir, head of communications for the West Iceland Regional Office, stated: “The municipality has been trying to make improvements, but this is a popular hiking trail that needs to be managed better. An application has been made to the municipality’s tourist attractions development fund, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done, because the route is dangerous.”

Previous injuries on the hiking trail to Glymur have included broken legs and sprains, but this is the first recorded death at the waterfall.

 

 

Red Cross Names Fifteen-Year-Old ‘First Aid Person of the Year’ 

Fifteen-year-old Arnór Ingi Davíðsson was named the Red Cross’ 2023 ‘First Aid Person of the Year’ in recognition for his quick thinking and cool head last year when his younger brother Bjarki Þór, then ten, was buried in an avalanche in Hveragerði, South Iceland, RÚV reports. The Red Cross gives out the award annually on the 112th day of the year as 112 is the phone number for emergency services in Iceland.

The brothers were playing near a cliff called Hamarinn when a snowbank slid down the mountainside and buried Bjarki Þór. Arnór Ingi acted quickly, locating his brother under the snow, digging it away to uncover his face, and then calling 112 for assistance. He followed emergency service’s instructions until ICE-SAR volunteers arrived at the scene and were able to take over.

Bjarki Þór Davíðsson, age 11; Screenshot via Red Cross Iceland

Arnór Ingi said calling 112 right away is the most important thing in an emergency situation. “I’m really thankful to have had the emergency line with me, it made all the difference. Just to keep him alive and conscious.”

Hjördís Garðarsdóttir, the dispatcher who answered Arnór Ingi’s 112 praised his bravery in the moment, and the care he took to keep his brother as calm as possible. “I think he did incredibly well,” she remarked in a video that was made for the awards ceremony. “Because if you listen to the call, he goes from being extremely scared to extremely reassuring for his brother.”

Even though his brother survived unharmed, Arnór Ingi says the incident still haunts him a year later.

“Sometimes, I can’t sleep and sometimes, I’m watching a movie and there’s an avalanche and something sticks. It’s uncomfortable to watch sometimes, I get flashbacks, but I’m feeling better about it now. It’s not as bad.”

The award was a real encouragement, said Arnór Ingi. “It’s a bit of a boost—crazy to get this recognition, I’m really proud.”

Icelandic Experts to Assist in Turkey Earthquake Response

TF-SIF

The Icelandic Association for Search, Rescue, and Injury Prevention (ICE-SAR) will send a group of experts to Turkey to assist in response to the earthquakes that occurred in the country yesterday morning. Together with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, ICE-SAR began preparing a group of nine people for the trip, who will be transported using the Icelandic Coast Guard’s TF-SIF plane this afternoon.

The team consists of experts in operations management and coordination, currently much needed in Turkey. As of the time of writing, some 80 international teams have announced their assistance in the disaster area. The leader of the Icelandic team is Sólveig Þorvaldsdóttir, who is experienced in managing and coordinating similar international operations.

Two earthquakes over M7 hit Turkey and affected several other countries yesterday morning. As of the time of writing, the death toll has topped 5,100 people. Syria has also been heavily affected by the quake, and other affected countries include Cyprus, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Georgia, and Armenia.

ICE-SAR wished the team good luck in the challenging conditions that await them.

Successful Response to Extreme Weather

None were injured in the winter storm that hit Iceland yesterday, and response efforts went smoothly, representatives of the Icelandic Association for Search, Rescue, and Injury Prevention (ICE-SAR) and the Civil Protection and Emergency Management Department told Vísir. Efforts mostly consisted of assisting travellers who had gotten stuck in the snow. The weather has calmed across the country today and is expected to be calmer in the coming days, though with heavy precipitation.

Cars stuck in snow

Travellers required assistance in various regions, including the capital area, West Iceland, Southeast Iceland, and East Iceland. More than 10 cars got stuck in the Grafarholt neighbourhood of Reykjavík around 10:00 PM last night. Only one response centre for travellers was opened, in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Southeast Iceland, and 34 travellers sought shelter there.

Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, the Civil Protection Department’s Communications Officer, believes that the weather warnings released over the past two days served to prevent serious accidents. “We believe that people just decided to stand with us in all of this,” she stated.

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.