A tourist died on Friday after being swept out to sea by a wave at Reynisfjara beach, just outside Vík í Mýrdal in South Iceland. RÚV reports that the man, who was in his eighties, was in the ocean for about an hour before he could be rescued and was dead by the time the Coast Guard helicopter was able to reach him.
The victim was from Canada and part of a larger tour group with his wife, who was also caught by the same wave. The tour guide was able to grab the woman and drag her to safety, but her husband was not so lucky. Rescue teams from South Iceland and the Westman Islands were called to the scene, as well as the Coast Guard. Conditions at sea were quite dangerous, however, with very high winds that prevented the Coast Guard helicopter from reaching the man for an hour.
The Red Cross’ trauma team was called in to provide services for the woman and her travel companions.
Believed they could swim ashore
Only a day later, a group of foreign tourists, including a family from Germany, were swept up in a wave in the same spot where the Canadian couple was caught on Friday. No one was seriously injured, but apparently, the group believed they could swim back to land if they were caught by the waves.
The upsetting incident was witnessed by tour guide Hrafnhildur Faulk.
Hrafnhildur saw six people get swept off their feet. Five managed to pull themselves to safety quickly; the last man lingered. “I was waiting for him to get up and run,” recounted Hrafnhildur, but the man stayed in the surf, looking for his glasses in the sand.
“He seemed pretty unphased, considering,” she continued. “I think I would have been more alarmed.”
Hrafnhildur said that she frequently sees people putting themselves in harm’s way on the shore at Reynisfjara, even running into the waves with small children. “Naturally, you run over and intervene,” she said. “But unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”
An all-too common occurrence
There have been many drownings at Reynisfjara over the years when visitors, generally foreign tourists, are swept into the ocean by powerful “sneaker waves.” In May, a Spanish tourist nearly drowned after intentionally wading into the surf to have photos taken, but thankfully, he was able to pull himself to shore. Last November, a young Chinese woman was not so lucky. Between 2007 and 2019, three people drowned at the popular beach.
That year, the government began to conduct a risk assessment and closed part of the beach, although many visitors ignored the closure. Much of the beach remains open, although with prominent warnings and explanations of the very real danger posed by the sneaker waves are posted in several languages.