Saving Trapped Hikers at Eruption Site “a Near Impossibility”

Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra. The eruption on Reykjanes, July 10, 2023

A public relations Officer with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue has told Mbl.is that rescue workers had to assist several hikers near the eruption site at Litli-Hrútur last night and into the early hours today. Rescuing hikers who become trapped in the lava is “a near impossibility.”

Approximately 3,000 hikers visited eruption site yesterday

In an interview with Mbl.is this morning, Jón Þór Víglundsson, Public Relations Officer with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (Landsbjörg), stated that there were seven instances of minor injuries or fatigue at the Litli-Hrútur eruption site late last night and into the early hours today.

An estimated 3,000 hikers, with varying levels of preparedness, trekked to the site during this time. The procession of hikers began to disperse away from the volcanic area and towards the parking lot at around 3 AM.

Nearly impossible to save trapped hikers

According to Jón, rescue teams succeeded in assisting hikers, even those who strayed from the marked trail or failed to reach the viewpoint. “Ascending to the lookout lifts one out of the dense smoke from the wildfires, but hikers are often drawn closer,” he said.

Read More: Favourable weather conditions at eruption site today

Jón warned of the perils of venturing near the lava, explaining that rescue via the same route would be impossible. “The only possible method would be an aerial evacuation, which isn’t always feasible. The chances of rescuing individuals trapped by fresh lava flows are slim, and anyone falling into the lava would, simply put, perish,” he concluded.

Six groups of rescue teams

For the past two nights, six rescue groups have been operating in the area, managing closure points and providing on-site assistance.

Jón also shared an interesting observation from travellers in the area: “Several travellers approached our teams, reporting sensations of a ‘knocking’ from beneath the ground, akin to a heartbeat, according to one of the hikers.” While Jón speculated these could be volcanic tremors, earthquakes, or natural tremors in the area, he believed the source of the knocking to be within the lava fields.

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.”