Iceland Mag

11 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

Accidents, Search and Rescue

Two foreign hikers rescued on Vatnajökull glacier after difficult search in extreme conditions

By Staff

  • Rescuing the men After being caught in an avalanche the two hikers had sought shelter by digging themselves into the snow. Photo/ICE-SAR

  • Grímsvötn One of the major volcanic systems in Vatnajökull, the mountains of Grímsvötn can be perilous. Photo/Vísir

Members of ICE-SAR companies from South and East Iceland mounted a massive search and rescue operation on Vatnajökull glacier yesterday evening after a distress beacon carried by two foreign hikers went off near Grímsvötn volcano in the western part of the glacier. Conditions on the glacier were extremely difficult, cold, blowing snow and limited to no visibility. 

Read more: Slideshow: Yesterday's rescue operation at mt. Grímsfjall in Vatnajökull glacier

Did everything correctly
The two men, who are Romanian nationals were experienced and well equipped. A spokesman for ICE-SAR told the local news site Vísir that the men had done everything correctly. They had left a detailed itinerary of their travel with, with information about the equipment they were carrying, and the route they were planning to take. This allowed rescuers to respond much more rapidly when the men activated their emergency beacon.

A rescue operation was launched immediately, with the first rescuers setting off at 19:00 yesterday evening. All in all 150 members of ICE-SAR companies in South and East Iceland participated in the search. ICE-SAR was particularly concerned because the beacon seemed to be broadcasting from an area in the hills of mt. Grímsfjall where hikers have previously fallen in steep cliffs. Rescuers were also concerned because the location of the stress beacon was significantly off the planned route of the men.

Caught in an avalanche
Shortly after midnight the first rescuers had reached the area where the men had activated the beacon. Their equipment was located first, and at 3:00 in the morning the men were found where they had buried themselves in the snow to seek shelter from the elements. They were both wet and cold when they were rescued.

A spokesman for ICE-SAR told the local newspaper Morgunblaðið that the hikers had been skiing when they were caught by an avalanche in the hills of mt. Grímsfjall. The men managed to escape the avalanche but lost their skis and much of their equipment. They managed to recover some of the equipment and activate the emergency beacon before burying themselves in the snow to wait for rescue.

At four in the morning, nine hours after having activated the stress beacon, the men were being transported to Grímsvatnaskáli cabin where the hikers and their rescuers waited off the storm which raged on Vatnajökull. Early morning the group then headed off to Höfn í Hornafirði where they were scheduled to arrive around noon.

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