Two in Custody After Accident at Sea

Coast Guard vessel Freyja in Húnaflói Bay

Questioning of the captain and first mate of the cargo ship Longdawn continue today following an incident yesterday. The two individuals are suspected of having abandoned the scene of an accident after the coastal fishing boat Hadda capsized the night before last.

May have caused an accident, abandoned the scene

Vísir states that evidence suggests that the cargo ship collided with the man’s coastal fishing boat, causing him to fall into the sea, though he was narrowly rescued.

The accident occurred around 3 a.m. during the night of May 16.

According to Ásgeir Erlendsson, communications officer from the Icelandic Coast Guard, an investigation of the fishing boat’s movements and a comparison with other ships in the area revealed that the Longdawn was in the same location at the same time. Consequently, the cargo ship’s crew was taken in for questioning.

Karl Gauti Hjaltason, the police chief in Vestmannaeyjar, confirmed that the captain in question is a Russian national.

Transferred to Keflavík

RÚV reports that the men in question were taken into custody in the Westman islands last night, but were then transferred to Keflavík.

The investigation of the maritime accident is under the jurisdiction of the Suðurnes police. Two crew members, a mate and a deckhand, were released after questioning yesterday.

Grindavík Sees Workers Team Up to Clear 700°C Lava

An ambulance lingers just outside of Grindavík

Around 100 people are working on repairs and salvaging operations in Grindavik, tackling tasks like restoring heating, power, and water supply, in addition to clearing new lava at a temperature of about 700°C. Strict safety measures are being observed.

Clearing a considerable amount of lava

As noted in a Facebook post by the Grindavík-based rescue team Þorbjörn yesterday, around 100 people have been engaged in various repairs and salvaging operations in the town of Grindavik in recent days. According to the update, the utmost safety has been observed in these efforts and “tremendous energy” has been invested in various projects in the town.

“Plumbing and electrical teams, accompanied by response units, have been traversing the town, working hard to restore heating to houses. The extent and amount of work vary by location, but efforts have been made to cover as many houses as possible. This work is nearly complete as of the time of writing.”

The update noted that teams from Landsnet (a transmission system operator) and the utility company HS Veitur have worked to restore the power line between the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant and Grindavik, a task that was completed last night. Earthmoving contractors, along with Grindavik’s fire brigade and municipal employees, have also been working to get the town’s cold water supply back up and running.

This requires clearing a considerable amount of new lava, still about 700°C. “This work is progressing well, and hopefully, water will be restored soon,” the post from Þorbjörn reads.

700-metres of fencing

Several hundred metres of fencing have also been erected in Grindavik to enclose areas where fissures and potential land collapses pose a threat, particularly in open spaces where the ground has not been reinforced or where fissures are visibly open. 

“Everyone working in Grindavik these days must adhere to strict safety requirements and receive specific safety instructions. For instance, each person must wear a fall-arrest harness and helmet, accompanied by response units equipped with gas detectors and communication devices. In the industrial area in the eastern part of Grindavik … people must be secured with safety lines while working there.”

A portable five-metre steel bridge has also been constructed to cross fissures and enhance the safety of those working in Grindavik. Plans are underway to build another similar bridge to keep multiple roads open simultaneously.

“All these measures aim to increase the safety of those in Grindavik, with the goal of starting valuable salvaging operations as soon as the opportunity arises. There is now a strong emphasis on planning the salvaging of valuables in the town, but as previously mentioned, such actions cannot commence until the risk assessment map from the Icelandic Meteorological Office changes,” the post reads.

“Finally, we would like to express our profound gratitude to everyone who has participated in the projects in Grindavik recently. Unity and collaboration have characterised the work, with up to 100 people involved in operations each day.”

Man Rescued Near Eruption Site Following SOS Signal

Reykjanes eruption Iceland eruption

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.

President of Iceland Participates in Coast Guard Helicopter Exercise

surtsey helicopter

The Coast Guard helicopter TF-GRO was called out yesterday, October 11, to remove two tires that had washed up on the beach near Bessastaðir.

Attempts to remove the rubbish had proved unsuccessful, and the Coast Guard helicopter was called in to aid in the operation. The tires were successfully removed and flown to Bessastaðir, where they will be disposed of.

president guðni coast guard helicopter
Screenshot – Vísir

Bessastaðir, located on Álftanes peninsula, is also the location of the presidential residence. The former farm was donated to the Icelandic state in 1941 and has been the home of the President of Iceland since the founding of the republic. Because the beach cleaning operation took place near the residence, the coast guard crew took the opportunity to include President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson in a training exercise.

The exercise involved simulating a rescue situation, in which Guðni himself was lifted by winch into the helicopter. He was soon returned in one piece after the conclusion of the exercise, which also involved a brief flight over the Álftanes peninsula. The crew was also invited for coffee at Bessastaðir following the exercise.

The Icelandic Coast Guard currently operates three helicopters, in addition to the turboprop surveillance and rescue aircraft TF-SIF.

 

Wet and Cold: Children Rescued from Elliðavatn Lake

elliðavatn reykjavík

Three boys between ages 10 and 11 were rescued by the capital area fire department yesterday when they fell through the ice on Elliðavatn, a popular lake near Reykjavík.

The boys had walked out onto the ice, which then broke under them. However, the fire department was able to respond in time, and the boys made it back onto dry land safely, albeit rather cold and wet.

The incident was reported to the fire department around 17:00 this last Monday. By the time the fire department had arrived, the boys had managed to make it to a small island in the lake, from which they were then rescued by the responders.

Sveinbjörn Berentsson, station officer at the capital area fire department, stressed in a statement to Vísir that going out on the ice is always dangerous, and simply staying off the ice is the safest thing to do.

It has also been a warm winter until a recent drop in temperature, meaning that the lake ice had only a short time to form.

The local school the boys attend has also sent advisory notices to parents, warning them of the danger. Teachers are also reported as having discussed the dangerous with their students following the incident.

 

 

Dramatic Helicopter Maneuvering Saves Life

TF-GRÓ Icelandic Coast Guard Helicopter

An Icelandic coast guard helicopter likely saved a man’s life last Friday when it flew backwards for five kilometres to Ísafjörður.

The dramatic manoeuvre was needed because of weather conditions in Ísafjörður, and doctors at the National Hospital of Iceland say that the helicopter crew’s decisive action likely saved the man’s life.

This story was first reported by Vísir.

Rough conditions

Conditions were extreme in Ísafjörður when the call for help came to Iceland’s coast guard last Friday, with wind ranging between 35 to 40 m/s, and little to no visibility.

Andri Jóhannesson, helicopter pilot in the coast guard, stated that the mission was one of the most difficult he had been a part of in his 15-year career.

Andri stated to Vísir that when the crew arrived in the Westfjords, wind conditions were so bad that it was not possible to fly straight into Ísafjörður like usual.

With a strong north-northwest wind, it would have been extremely dangerous to fly into the fjord, but nevertheless, the crew tried twice to fly into the fjord at a low altitude. However, the zero-visibility conditions made this impossible.

A hard decision

After these failed attempts, the crew was forced to make a roadside landing in order to assess the situation further.

When the crew took stock of the situation, it was clear that they were running low on fuel. The crew had flown in a stiff headwind all the way from Reykjavík, and the multiple attempts at entering the fjord had forced them to spend more time in the air than they had planned.

The crew would not be able to make it to Bolungarvík, a village near Ísafjörur, and the location of the patient. The crew would be forced to land in Ísafjörður to refuel and pick up the patient there.

Flying with their nose in the wind

Given the conditions, the crew realised they would not be able to fly the usual way, with the wind at their back, as it would be impossible to turn the helicopter to land in Ísafjörður. The decision was made to instead fly with “their nose in the wind,” that is, backwards, for a total of five kilometres.

This, however, was not the end of the drama. Given the low visibility, flight mechanic Árni Freyr had to lead the way. With the back of the helicopter open, Árni directed the final approach of the helicopter. In a harness and partially hanging out of the helicopter, Árni led the crew like this for some 20 minutes.

Upon landing in Ísafjörður and taking on the patient, the helicopter was forced to perform a “hot refuelling,” in which the engine stays on. Given the harsh winds, it may have been impossible to start the rotors again if the engine was turned off during the refuelling process.

A life saved

The patient, who had suffered a heart attack, was immediately sent into surgery upon arrival in Reykjavík, and doctors claim he would have died without the crew’s bravery.

The story, dramatic as it is, highlights the critical role played by emergency services in Iceland. Many remote parts of Iceland become largely inaccessible during the winter. Often, there is only one rescue helicopter on call, and there have been calls to increase funding to the coast guard and search and rescue services.

 

 

Preparations Made to Recover Plane Crash Wreckage

missing plane Þingvellir

The wreckage from the plane that crashed in Lake Þingvallavatn in February will be recovered Friday, Vísir reports. Recovering the aircraft is vital to the ongoing investigation into why the plane—which did not have a black box—actually crashed.

The Cessna 172N, piloted by Haraldur Diego, went missing on February 3 after setting off on a two-hour sightseeing tour with three passengers from the US, the Netherlands, and Belgium respectively. What followed was one of the most extensive search and rescue efforts in recent memory, involving 1,000 individuals at its height. The wreck was eventually located and the bodies of the pilot and his three young passengers—John Neuman, 22; Tim Alings, 27; and Nicola Bellavia, 32—were brought up by divers from a depth of 37 metres [121 feet] and deeper. Difficult conditions and freezing temperatures further complicated the process: each diver was only permitted a single attempt per day and a total of 20 minutes in the water. Plans were made to haul out the plane itself as well, but these were postponed once conditions were determined to be too dangerous for the time being. The wreckage has remained on the bottom of the lake, at a depth of 50 metres [164 ft], ever since.

See Also: All Four Bodies Recovered from Lake Pingvallavatn

Work stations were set up by the lake today, with about 60 people set to take part in recovery operations. Although the plane’s been submerged for two months, its condition doesn’t appear to have changed. Rúnar Steingrímsson, an officer with the South Iceland Police, told reporters on Thursday afternoon that the situation is completely different from what it was in February. Conditions are much more temperate and Friday’s forecast is good.

“The barges, or at lest one of them, will probably be put out today [Thursday], and then everything will get started tomorrow,” he said. “People and the rest of the equipment will arrive on Friday morning.”

There will be five divers on hand to help with the recovery process. Besides being at a significant depth, the wreckage is also “some 1,800 metres [1.1 mi] from where we’ll be putting the equipment out,” said Rúnar. “The same place we were in last time. We’re just hoping it all goes well and that this is successful. We’ve been planning this for a long time. We went last week and photographed the plane again and it was in the same condition as when we left it. So everything seems to be good in that respect.”

“There’s a dive to the plane at this depth and then it will be hoisted up under barges and brought closer to land, within some five or six metres [16-20 ft], and then they’ll dive again and take out all the electronic equipment.”

If everything goes to plan, the aircraft will have been brought ashore by Friday evening.

The Future of Oil-Soaked Eider Ducks in Suðureyri Uncertain

Female eiderducks

A week has passed since an oil spill was reported in the town of Suðureyri in Northwest Iceland. Over the past days, residents have set up makeshift facilities to clean affected eider ducks – and have managed to save almost two dozen birds since last weekend. An expert with with the Natural Science Institute of the Westfjords believes that these efforts may only serve to protract the birds’ suffering, Fréttablaðið reports.

A quick recap

Over 9,000 litres of diesel oil spilt into Suðureyri harbour on Thursday, March 3. The leak, which originated from a reserve tank owned by the power company Orkubú Vestfjarða – and which was buried in snow – was discovered by residents the following morning.

They could smell it.

“I still smell like diesel oil, despite having showered twice since yesterday,” Auður Steinberg, a resident in Suðureyri, stated in an interview with Vísir last Sunday.

The oil found its way into a pond near the local swimming pool – which was subsequently closed alongside the elementary school – and from there into the harbour. It wasn’t until Monday, three days after the leak was reported, that hoses were submerged in water to try to prevent the leak from spreading.

Hundreds of eider ducks in bad shape

Although there was less soil pollution than initially suspected, hundreds of eider ducks were badly affected by the leak. Many of them fled the harbour, where they commonly spend their nights, onto nearby roads and neighbourhoods.

In an interview with RÚV on Wednesday, eider duck expert and Suðureyri resident Einar Mikael Sverrisson described the conditions as “nightmarish.” According to Einar, “there were hundreds of birds that needed help.”

He got to work right away.

Having converted baiting facilities into a bird-rescue centre, Einar and his neighbours had, as of yesterday, managed to save nineteen out of the twenty-eight birds that they had collected last weekend. “But over a hundred birds remain, completely helpless, most of them already dead,” Einar told Fréttablaðið in another interview yesterday.

He predicts that hundreds of birds will perish over the coming weeks and months if nothing is done.

Requested funds of six-ten million ISK

As noted in that same article published in Fréttablaðið yesterday, Suðureyri residents requested that Orkubú Vestfjarða contribute as much as ISK 10 million ($75,000 / €70,000) towards rescue operations and that the company convert a reserve power station into facilities for helping the birds.

Acting on the advice of the Westfjords Health Inspector, Elías Jónatansson – Director of Orkubú Vestfjarða – turned down the request. It wouldn’t be “realistic,” Einar told Fréttablaðið, adding that the company felt “terribly sorry” about what had happened.

“I’m not going to lie: something like this just doesn’t happen out of the blue. Something went wrong, somewhere, and we’re going to make things right. That’s for certain.”

Better to euthanise the birds

Today, a week after the leak was first reported, a veterinarian is expected to arrive in Suðureyri. Upon arrival, the veterinarian will assess whether or not the birds can be rescued – or whether the authorities will have to resort to euthanisation.

Sigurlaug Sigurðardóttir, expert with the Natural Science Institute of the Westfjords, told Fréttablaðið yesterday that there was “little to be done” in such conditions. “According to the Nature Conservation Act, it is our duty to save animals if it is possible. If it is not possible, then we are to put them to death immediately.

While expressing admiration for the work done by Suðureyri residents, Sigurlaug maintained that such efforts may only serve to protract their suffering. “They’re doing this with the best of intentions, of course, but that doesn’t mean that it’s helping.”

It is usually considered most humane to euthanise eider ducks that become soaked in oil, an article in RÚV notes. “It takes many weeks for the natural protective oils in their feathers to build up again in order to stay warm and stay afloat.”

The cleanup could take days or even weeks

The clean-up of Suðureyri harbour began on Wednesday, but the weather has made things difficult. Employees of Orkubú Vestfjarða are employing a so-called “skimmer:” a machine that sucks the oil from the water.

“We’re trying to restrict the flow of oil, to corner it, and use a skimmer to suck it up,” Sigríður Kristinsdóttir, project manager with the Environment Agency of Iceland, told RÚV yesterday.

Those working to the clean the spill have managed to stop the source of the leak, but cleaning the diesel oil from the pond and the harbour is expected to take days or even weeks.

Successful Rescue Mission on Vatnajökull Glacier

Vatnajökull rescue mission March 2022

Search and Rescue crews were called out to Vatnajökull glacier in South Iceland yesterday evening when some travellers sent out a distress signal. They were found just after 10:00 PM, some four hours after their distress call was sent out, and were flown to Reykjavík by helicopter for medical attention. They were cold and wet, but not injured.

Finding the individuals was made easier by the fact that they had left a travel plan with safetravel.is. The travellers had dug themselves into the snow to shield themselves from the weather, which was snowy and wet when the search began. Crews reached the location with the help of snowmobiles, jeeps, and specialised snow vehicles.

ICE-SAR Spends Weekend on Rescue Calls Due to Avalanches, Snowy Roadways

Cars trapped on the road

Search and Rescue volunteers around Iceland had their hands full this weekend, as punishing snowstorms and gale-force winds pummelled the country with no signs of abating come Monday. RÚV reports that an orange weather warning went into effect for the whole country on Sunday evening and is expected to be in place until 8 am on Tuesday. It’s possible that the warning level will be elevated to red in South Iceland, depending on how conditions develop.

Ten-Year-Old Boy Rescued from Avalanche in Hveragerði

A Search and Rescue team in Hveragerði, South Iceland was called out on Saturday afternoon to help rescue a ten-year-old boy who had been buried in snow. The boy had been playing with his 14-year-old brother at the base of a rock wall when the accumulated snow slid off the top and buried him.

The boy’s brother acted quickly, locating his brother under the snow, digging away the snow to uncover his face, and calling the 112 emergency line for assistance.

ICE-SAR arrived at the scene, finished unburying the boy, and transported him to the hospital in an ambulance. As of 2:00 pm, when the local police posted about the incident on Facebook, the boy was recovering well. Police reminded locals to be particularly cautious, as there was ongoing risk of avalanches in the area.

Sixty Cars Stuck on Roadway near Sólheimasandur

Heavy snowfall in South Iceland created even more trouble early Saturday evening. Nearly 60 cars became stuck on the road near the Sólheimasandur glacial outwash plain not far from the Jökulsá river. Some of the cars became stuck in the snow, and some of them were simply trapped behind the stuck cars.

ICE-SAR was called out to dig the cars out and manage the ensuing traffic jam.

Commuters in Reykjavík were faced with similar headaches on Saturday, particularly in the upper neighbourhoods. Many cars got stuck in the snow and there were also a handful of weather-related traffic accidents.