Lawyers Awaited Snowmobilers After Rescue

When a group of snowmobilers reached shelter after being rescued from a storm last month, they found lawyers waiting for them, RÚV reports. The lawyers’ aim was to offer their services in case the foreign tourists wanted to take legal action against the company who ran the excursion. Red Cross and Search and Rescue representatives criticised the move, saying it provoked unnecessarily stress on the heels of the group’s traumatic experience.

On January 7, 39 tourists were stranded at the base of Langjökull glacier in West Iceland, where they were forced to dig snow shelters while they waited hours for rescue teams to reach them. Mountaineers of Iceland, the company that organised the tour, later admitted fault, saying the decision to visit an ice cave on the trip led the group to get stuck in bad weather.

When the group arrived at Gullfosskaffi shortly after being rescued, they found lawyers awaiting them. Lawyers also met the group upon their arrival in Reykjavík shortly after. Þór Þorsteinsson, ICE-SAR’s director, says laywers also called the organisation asking for a list of names of victims in the incident, “which we, of course, did not provide.”

In a TV interview, Þór and Brynhildur Bolladóttir, the Icelandic Red Cross’ public relations officer, agreed that the lawyers’ presence was not a desirable development. Brynhildur added that it was the duty of Red Cross staff to ensure that individuals who had experienced trauma not experience additional stress, including from reporters, who were also present to interview some of those rescued. Conditions are often such that people can’t evaluate whether they should give an interview or not. “All provocation when people have experienced trauma or serious events can have consequences,” Brynhildur stated.

Mountaineers of Iceland Admits Mistake

Mountaineers of Iceland

The tour company responsible for stranding 39 tourists in a storm by Langjökull glacier on January 7 admits that they made at least one mistake that contributed to the situation, RÚV reports. Nearly 200 search and rescue volunteers were needed to rescue the group of snowmobilers, some of whom spent more than seven hours out in the storm.

Haukur Herbertsson, Mountaineers of Iceland’s Director of Operations, says the company cancelled all other trips that day due to an oncoming storm. The trip in question, however, was expected to finish before bad weather hit, but the group was delayed by the decision to visit an ice cave. “We clearly made a mistake by going into the ice cave,” Haukur told reporters yesterday. “It’s possible we made other mistakes. At this point, I don’t know what they all are.”

Delayed calling search and rescue

When the group became stuck, the company first attempted a rescue using their own vehicles, which broke down on the way to the group. Search and rescue teams were only then called for assistance. When asked whether the company should have contacted search and rescue earlier, Haukur answered “Yes, in hindsight. As soon as we realised that the snowcat was having issues we should have called search and rescue.”

Minister calls for explanation

Minister of Tourism Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir says Mountaineers of Iceland’s spokespeople have not explained sufficiently enough why the trip had not been cancelled. “The company needs to explain in more detail why this decision was made. Icelandic tourism depends entirely on ensuring the safety of tourists who come here,” Þórdís stated, adding that the incident could damage the reputation of Iceland’s tourism industry.

Second such incident for Mountaineers

This is not the first snowmobiling trip to end poorly for Mountaineers of Iceland. In January of 2017, an Australian couple got separated from their group during one of the company’s tours on Langjökull glacier. They were rescued some seven hours later thanks to 180 search and rescue volunteers. The company was eventually ordered to financially compensate the pair.

Haukur has stated that the company will review its safety protocols following the incident.