From Iceland — Helicopters Unable To Answer Rescue Calls Far Out At Sea

Helicopters Unable To Answer Rescue Calls Far Out At Sea

Published March 28, 2022

Alice Poggio
Photo by
Alain Rioux

The Icelandic Coast Guard consists of three helicopters. The newest addition, TF-GNA, joined the fleet last May.

Helicopters require significant funding and maintenance. They need to be regularly serviced in order to be safe and reliable for the rescue team, and for those who are in need of assistance. They are more often a last resort measure, and are used parsimoniously. An example can be when earlier this year, the rescue teams failed to reach an individual stuck on the lava ground around the Fagradalsfjall area on foot, and the Coast Guard was required to intervene.

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The goal is to always have two helicopters on duty, while the third is being serviced. In recent years, this system has not always proven reliable. Additionally, when only one helicopter is available, it is not allowed to fly over 20 nautical miles out to sea.

As RÚV reports, there have been at least two such instances in recent weeks. The ships were forced to move closer inland, so as to close the gap, so that the injured could be tended to.

When it doesn’t work

Last Thursday, no helicopter was available to answer a distress call. The crew of the only available helicopter was on their way to training, when a failure occurred, at the same time as the incoming call.

In another much discussed incident in August 2020, the Minister of Justice at the time, Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, had accepted a helicopter ride from the South to Reykjavik and back. 

Frettablaðið reports : “From 19 to 22 August 2020, work was carried out on the maintenance of the TF-GRO helicopter. The TF-EIR helicopter was therefore the only available helicopter of the agency on the 20 August 2020 when it was used to fly with the Minister to and from the meeting in question.”

According to a new report from the National Audit Office, no helicopter was available for seven days in 2020 and for only one helicopter the number reached was 188 days. The coast guard explains that this is mainly due to the intake of new helicopters that year.

Frettablaðið spoke to Ásgeir Erlendsson, the Coast guard information officer, and according to Erlendsson : “It is very rare that no helicopter is available.”

What are the concerns?

Seven days a year might not sound like a terrifying number. However, one must consider the conditions here in Iceland. Namely its unforgiving terrain, and unpredictable weather. These undoubtedly raise the need for rescue helicopters, especially so at sea. 

RÚV wrote: ” Valmundur Valmundsson, chairman of the Icelandic Seamen’s Association, says that he has pointed out this situation to the government many times and demanded improvements. ‘I think this is miserable and it shows that we have to take better care of these issues. We have three helicopters here now, once we only had one. Now the three and sometimes none of them are available.’ “

Also, tourists are known to underestimate the dangers of the challenging weather, which often result in the need for rescue team intervention. 

With the predicted steady comeback of tourism, it’s safe to say that there could be a rise in rescue calls, and in the need of helicopter assistance. Especially when considering the attraction of recent volcanic eruptions, which have so far proven to be the flame to many unprepared or careless moths.

It can be agreed that it is in the country’s best interest to make sure that the Coast Guard can provide a more reliable service. To allow for this rugged, unpredictable, breathtaking country to be enjoyed safely, and with the surety that if anything unfortunate were to happen, there would always be the means needed to attempt a rescue at the ready.

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