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).

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.

Helicopter, Drones Searched for 9-Year-Old Boy – Later Found Sound Asleep in Friend’s Bed

TF-GRÓ Icelandic Coast Guard Helicopter

An extensive search was carried out on the night before Thursday for a nine-year-old boy who was believed to have gone missing from a summer camp in Vatnaskógur, West Iceland. A search-and-rescue team was dispatched alongside the Coast Guard’s helicopter. The boy was later discovered to be asleep in a friend’s bed, RÚV reports.

“An unbelievable series of events”

“I can’t describe how relieved I was. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy,” Þráinn Haraldsson, Director of the YMCA/YWCA summer camps in Vatnaskógur, West Iceland, told RÚV yesterday.

Prior to the interview, Þráinn had sent an email, in which he described something of an unbelievable series of events, to the parents of the campers. The letter recounted how the boys at the camp had retired to bed at about 11 PM on Wednesday night. When the camp counsellors made their rounds at 1 AM, however – they noticed that one of the beds was empty.

The counsellors immediately began searching for the missing boy: all rooms were entered, heads were counted, and the surrounding area was combed. To no avail.

Þráinn told RÚV that there was nothing else to do in the situation but to notify the parents and phone the police. The police then requested the aid of ICE-SAR (The Icelandic Association for Search, Rescue, Injury Prevention), which arrived with sniffer dogs and a thermal drone. The Coast Guard’s helicopter was also dispatched.

May have sleepwalked

As noted by Þráinn, the helicopter had been hovering over the area for all of about ten minutes – when the boy was found, sleeping soundly in his friend’s bed. “All things suggest that he had walked in his sleep. We monitor the cabins at night, but we don’t see everything that happens. It seems that he went into another room and wound up in another boy’s bed. He was hidden under the covers, so we couldn’t see him,” Þráinn told RÚV.

Þráinn maintains that the summer camp’s staff, the police, and rescue workers had searched the cabin four times without finding the boy. He was found on the fifth attempt. “He was really sorry about the whole situation, but he is here with us now and plans to finish the summer camp,” Þráinn observed. He expects to one day appreciate the humour of the situation, although not until he has fully recovered from the shock.

The email to the campers’ parents states that most of the boys had slept through the hullabaloo. A team of experienced workers arrived in Vatnaskógur yesterday morning to give those who were on duty last night a little rest. “The YWCA and the YWCA and the Vatnaskógar staff would like to express their sincere thanks to the police, the rescue team, the boy’s parents, and all those who helped us out on Thursday morning,” the email concludes by saying.

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.

 

 

Busy Weekend for ICE-SAR on Hellisheiði Pass

winter weather iceland

ICE-SAR was busy until late into the evening on Hellisheiði pass this past Sunday. Severe weather left several people trapped in their cars after a significant traffic accident, which reportedly involved up to ten vehicles.

Hellisheiði is the mountainous pass between South Iceland and the Reykjanes peninsula and can present travellers with very difficult conditions during the winter.

Of the individuals involved in the traffic accident, several were transported to the emergency room in Reykjavík, though none were reported as seriously injured. In addition to assisting potentially injured drivers and removing damaged cars from the road, ICE-SAR was also busy evacuating individuals from their vehicles and bringing them back to town.

According to a representative from ICE-SAR, approximately 150 people were assisted yesterday.

Members of ICE-SAR from throughout the region were present, including from Selfoss, Hveragerði, Reykjavík, and Þorlákshöfn.

Hellisheiði pass was closed for much of yesterday due to the weather, but is currently open at the time of writing. Travellers are advised to check conditions and heed weather warnings when driving in Iceland.

This winter has been noteworthy for the number of weather warnings issued. While 2020 saw the most weather warnings in total issued, the winter of 2022 saw a record number of orange and red warnings. In total, 84 of these extreme weather warnings were issued.

 

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.

Twenty Rescued from Ski Lift in High Winds

Twenty people were rescued from a chairlift at the Hlíðarfjall ski area outside Akureyri on Friday afternoon, RÚV reports. The lift stalled when the wire was blown off its spool by a strong blast of wind, stranding about 20 people mid-air for close to two hours. Luckily, the area’s Search and Rescue crew was able to get everyone to safety and no one was injured in the process.

Weather conditions are assessed at ski areas every day to determine if it’s safe to open. But while conditions weren’t ideal at Hlíðarfjall on Friday, the wind wasn’t initially so strong that it was thought unsafe to ski and snowboard. By the afternoon, however, the weather had taken a turn for the worse.

From noon, the wind started to pick up again, and it was decided to stop letting people in the lift at 12:30,” explained a post on the Hlíðarfjall Facebook page. “There were still 21 people on the lift. Our chairlifts have built-in wind protection that slows down and stops the lift at certain wind speeds. An attempt was made to drive the lift slowly backwards in the hope of evacuating it, but as the wind continued to increase, it did not work and the lift came to a complete stop.

The Súlur Search and Rescue team used special equipment to rescue those who had been stranded on the chairlift in high winds. Image via the Hlíðarfjall Akureyri Facebook page.

It was then that Search and Rescue and police were called, explained Hlíðarfjall director Brynjar Helgi Ásgeirson. Ski area staff regularly train in ski lift rescues, but the wind, which had reached 20 m/s [44.7 mph], made the process much more difficult.

Luckily, everyone on the lift was back on the ground within two hours of it stopping. Australian Andrew Davis was one of those rescued from the lift. He told reporters that everyone who was stuck kept calm, and no one seemed to be in too bad a shape, though the wind was battering them about.

Andrew said he did consider jumping from the lift, as he was confident he could have stuck the landing. But in the end, he decided to wait it out, and saluted the Search and Rescue team for their fast work. Two 13-year-old girls were also amongst the stranded, but Bynjar Helgi said they were “quite upbeat” when they made it back to the ground.

After the rescue, those who had been stranded were offered trauma counselling, although no one chose to take it. What everyone did want, however, was the hot chocolate that ski area staff had waiting for them. “After a short while and some hot cocoa, people were smiling and putting this down to experience,” said Brynjar Helgi.

Hlíðarfjall was closed on Saturday due to unsafe weather conditions. To check current conditions and look at the area’s web cams (in English), see the Hlíðarfjall website, here.

Avalanche in Skagafjörður Leaves 15 Horses Dead

An avalanche in Skagafjörður, near the town of Hofsós in North Iceland, has left 15 horses dead.

The avalanche occurred around 1pm on December 26. The Search and Rescue team “Grettir” was called to the scene, but all horses were found dead upon their arrival.

Residents and farms of nearby Unadalur are reported as being safe from the avalanche, with no further reported damage to property or livestock.

Rescue teams in Iceland have been very busy over the holiday season, with many roads left impassable in the winter weather, leaving many travelers stranded as well.

Winter Weather Wreaks Havoc

Snowstorms in south and southwest Iceland wreaked havoc on Saturday, leading to road closures, the opening of additional emergency centres, dozens of calls to ICE-SAR to rescue people from cars stranded on roadways, and flight disruptions, RÚV reports.

See Also: It’s Going to Be a White Christmas

Roads around south and southwest Iceland—including the pass over Hellisheði and Mosfellsheiði heaths, Þrengsli, and around Kjalarnes peninsula—closed on Saturday, with teams struggling in low visibility and dense snow to clear a path, even as abandoned cars on the roadway slowed the process considerably.

“Yes, there’s been plenty to do,” said ICE-SAR’s information officer Jón Þór Víglundsson. “Not long ago, there were reports of cars on Mosfellsheiði and rescue teams were called out to deal with it. There were as many as 15 cars. Right as they were getting there, we got news of cars on Kjósskárðsvegur that were in trouble. So this is basically the situation in the southwest, from Borgarfjörður to east of Selfoss. People are finding themselves in trouble.”

Indeed, roads in and around Selfoss were impassable after a night and morning of heavy snow and Grétar Einarsson, foreman of the Icelandic Road Administration in Selfoss, also noted that cars that had gotten stuck on roadways were slowing the clearing process significantly—as were vehicles following directly behind the snowplows as the roads were being cleared.

But while he urged people to stay inside until roads had been sufficiently cleared, Grétar remained jolly. “People asked for Christmas snow and their prayers were clearly answered!”

Most rescue call-outs in Grindavík

Rescue teams responded to dozens of calls all over the country, but the most calls came from around the town of Grindavík, located on the southern coast of the Reykjanes peninsula.

“We’ve got snow accumulation, wind, sleet, driving snow, hailstorms, some thunder—it just doesn’t quit,” said Bogi Adolfsson, who leads the Þorbjörn Search and Rescue team in Grindavík. The team’s main challenge on Saturday was helping people were stuck on Rte. 43, also called Grindavíkurvegur, which closed that morning and stranded a number of people, mostly foreign tourists, who were trying to make their way back to the capital. The Red Cross opened an aid station in the afternoon to provide shelter for those who’d been rescued.

Shortly after noon on Saturday, there were a reported 40 cars stuck on Grindavíkurvegur, many of which were driven by tourists hoping to go to the Blue Lagoon. “A number of tourists have plans and there’s a steady stream of people headed toward the Blue Lagoon,” said Gríndavík detective superintendent Ásmundur Rúnar Gylfason. “They’ve just decided that they’ve got to go to the Blue Lagoon.” Many people en route to the popular destination were not aware of the road closure, and so police and rescue teams were stationed at the intersection with Reykjanesbraut to turn them away, but that caused traffic snares as well.

Further east along the southern coast, in Þorlákshöfn, about a dozen people spent much of the day at the emergency centre that had been opened in the primary school. Many of these individuals had had to spend the night there. “These are people who ICE-SAR rescued from their cars and brought here,” said school principal Ólína Þorleifsdóttir, who said they tried to make those who were stranded comfortable with blankets, bread, cookies, and coffee.

Flight disruptions

Snow accumulation on the runway at Keflavík necessitated the airport closing temporarily for both departures and landings. All flights to Europe were delayed due to weather on Saturday morning, some for upwards of four hours. A flight from Stockholm, Sweden had to land amidst lightning during the latter half of the day.

Both Icelandair flights from Reykjavík to Ísafjörður in the Westfjords had to be cancelled on Saturday, as did the first flight from the capital to Egilsstaðir in East Iceland. Flights from Reykjavík to Akureyri in North Iceland were delayed and one long-delayed flight from Akureyri to Reykjavík took off five hours after it was scheduled, only to be forced to return to Akureyri half-way to the capital due to weather conditions.

As of 7:00 PM, Icelandair had cancelled all flights until the morning, that is, 11 flights to North America, a flight to London Gatwick, and another to Copenhagen. All foreign passengers and those on connecting flights were put up in hotels at the airline’s expense. Icelandair PR representative Ásdís Ýr Pétursdóttir said delays could be expected when flights resumed.

This article was updated.