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Iceland Volcano

Eruption claims two lives

Stefan Helgi Valsson, eTN  Apr 10, 2010

Two people died from exposure Tuesday and one was rescued after getting lost on their way back from sightseeing the three-week-old volcanic eruption on the Fimmvorduhals pass on Mt. Eyjafjallajokull in the south of Iceland.

A man in his 60s and a woman in her 40s fell victim to the harsh winter climate in Fjallabak wilderness nature reserve several kilometers north of the eruption. A woman in her 30s was rescued. Previously, police and rescue team volunteers had expressed grave concern over the safety of ill-prepared spectators scrambling to see the eruption.

The three people set off on Easter Sunday in a small SUV they had borrowed and drove it to Fljotsdalur valley from where it is possible to view the eruption from a safe distance, until the vehicle got stuck in a river. Monday morning, at 2:00 am, the driver who did not know where he was, called the police with his mobile phone and asked for help. Rescue teams were dispatched. The search was called off about 5 hours later when the driver called and cancelled his request for help. He informed the rescue teams that he had managed to free the SUV and was driving along a trail.

Tuesday, more than 24 hours after the driver called and cancelled his request for help, relatives informed authorities that the people were still missing. Nearly 300 people from 28 rescue units were mobilized using specialized equipment, such as snowmobiles and helicopters. At four o’clock in the afternoon, the rescue teams stumbled upon a cold and exhausted woman in her 30s. One hour later, the rescue team found the missing vehicle abandoned with an empty fuel tank. The body of a woman in her 40s lay nearby. The man's body was found at 9:30 pm, 4-5 kilometers from the vehicle.

A French tourist barely made it to a mountain hut in Húsadalur valley in the Thorsmork nature reserve on Monday night. When he reached the hut, he was completely wet and too cold to speak. The man apparently got a lift into Fljotsdalur valley and decided to cross the fast-flowing Markarfljot River - fed by glacial melt water - to get closer to the eruption. He was lucky to cross the river and even luckier to find the hut in Husadalur valley in the dark.

Police and rescue teams have on numerous occasions prevented loss of life and limbs in the area since the start of the eruption less than three weeks ago. The eruption itself does not impose danger to people except for foolish spectators. As many as 5,000 people viewed the eruption in a single day from various vantage points. However, dozens of unprepared, exhausted, and slightly-injured hikers have been rescued off the mountain by 4x4 or helicopter in all sorts of weather.

Eruption claims two lives
Photo by Stefan Helgi Valsson

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