Mountaineers of Iceland, the tour company who took 39 tourists on a snowmobile tour on Langjökull during a blizzard last Tuesday and subsequently needed to be rescued, have responded to the incident. The manager of operations admitted that a mistake was made, and a group statement from the company attributed what happened to an extended delay in the course of the tour. The Minister of Tourism expressed confusion as to why Mountaineers of Iceland went forward at all with the tour despite weather forecasts well ahead of time warning of a severe storm approaching, but the managing director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF) does not believe the incident will have a long-lasting negative effect on the reputation of Iceland’s tourism industry.
As reported, about 200 rescue workers were deployed to rescue the tourists from atop the glacier, who were trapped in the midst of a blizzard which had been forecast to be arriving at least a day ahead of time. Several of those rescued suffered from frostbite, with some fearing for their lives, and police in South Iceland are still conducting a full investigation.
Haukur Herbertsson, the manager of operations for Mountaineers of Iceland, told RÚV that they were aware of the weather forecast, but had estimated that the tour group would be well finished before the storm approached. This contention was repeated in a group statement from the company, Vísir reports, who added that they were under the impression that the blizzard would not begin until 15:00.
Putting aside that the weather in Iceland does not follow an hourly timetable, the company admitted that the decision to stop and visit an ice cave on their way up the glacier had taken a lot longer than anticipated. This, Haukur contends, is where they had gone wrong.
“We clearly made a mistake by going into the ice cave,” he told reporters. “We probably made more mistakes than that. At this point I don’t know what all of them are.”
That being said, both Haukur and the group statement expressed regret for how the incident played out. This is in stark contrast to a similar incident from in 2017, wherein an Australian couple were stranded for seven hours on the same glacier in the middle of a storm during a snowmobile tour. The couple sued Mountaineers of Iceland, and the company at the time blamed the couple for straying from the group.
Regardless of the apology issued, Minister of Tourism Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir expressed confusion as to why the tour was initiated in the first place.
“I don’t think it’s been made clear why they took the decision to go on the tour,” she told RÚV. “The outlying conditions were very clear. Of course one is very disappointed to see such a case. In our ministry, we have made safety a priority.” She added that ministry regulations make it very clear that Icelandic tour companies must put the safety of our visitors above all other things.
Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, the managing director of SAF, told RÚV that he was deeply grateful to Iceland’s rescue workers for their response. He does not believe that the incident will damage Iceland’s tourism industry reputation in the long term, citing the fact that there are many tour companies in the country who have been in operation for years, and that despite Iceland’s often inclement weather and the millions of visitors to the country, there have been very few serious incidents.
“It is, despite everything, incredible how well things have gone over the years,” he said. “In bad weather and with conditions that we have had to face in the country, receiving millions of visitors to the country without their being, fortunately, very many serious incidents.”
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