Quickly to the rescue

Forty-eight minutes after The Governor of Svalbard was notified people had gone through the ice in Tempelfjorden, the four in the water were picked up.

The rescue helicopter with 4 injured landed in the centre of Longyearbyen, near the hospital.
The rescue helicopter with 4 injured landed in the centre of Longyearbyen, near the hospital.
Governor Kjerstin Askholt.
Governor Kjerstin Askholt.

At 5:30 p.m. last Thursday, the governor was notified people had broken through the ice in Tempelfjorden. It took 38 minutes before the first helicopter was at the scene and ready to lift people out of the water. Ten minutes later, the four people in the water were rescued.

"In my opinion, this could not have been done faster," said Gov. Kjerstin Askholt. "Many people here made the right decisions in every respect. Air transport was unusually fast, and the pilots and rescuers quickly gained an overview. My police officers made very good and correct decisions the whole time, and the crew from the Red Cross made a fantastic effort. In addition, we were fortunate that the KV Svalbard was nearby and could assist with the rescue work. Our local hospital also made a formidable effort. There were many who worked well together and that made it as successful as it was, even though the situation is still uncertain for one person."

Six through the ice
A snowmobile tour with a total of 25 people guided by the Russian tour operator Arctic Travel Company Grumant was on their way from Pyramiden and crossing Tempelfjorden. They were divided into three groups with a guide for each. The first group drove out on the ice a few minutes before the others.

"What we know is that the ones followed by 16 people managed to stop and return to land," Askholt said. "One person did go through the ice, but managed to get out and onto land."

Those groups returned to Pyramiden and were later retrieved by Trust Arktikugol's helicopter.

KV «Svalbard» in Tempelfjorden. On the picture you can see the scooter tracks and the holes in the ice.
KV «Svalbard» in Tempelfjorden. On the picture you can see the scooter tracks and the holes in the ice.

Landing at the hospital
The remaining nine – two guides and seven guests – got into trouble. Six people fell into the water. Two managed to get up onto the ice, while four people were picked up from the sea by the first rescue helicopter.

"Two of them were in the same place, two others were in two different places," Askholt said.

They were flown directly to a plain just below Longyearbyen Hospital since they were suffering severe hypothermia.

The two on the ice were taken by helicopter to the KV Svalbard, which had a doctor on board.

"Three people managed to get to Fredheim," Askholt said. "They were taken care of by the Red Cross and the governor there. They were also later taken to the KV Svalbard and transported to the city."

The three people were initially reported missing. A subsequent search by snowmobilers revealed persons at Fredheim and the governor's office was notified. Shortly thereafter, it was confirmed that they were the missing tour group members.

"Both guides were involved in what happened in the middle of the ice" Askholt said. "There were three tourists who went to Fredheim."

Did not cross towards Fredheim
Police Chief Lt. Irene Sætermoen said the plan was the Russian-led group would cross the Tempelfjorden at the same place they crossed the day before while going to Pyramiden. That is, from Kapp Murdoch and eventually – but not directly – to Fredheim. However, Svalbardposten has not been able to confirm specific details of where the group drove.

Guides have stated they did assess the route, but cannot comment about specifics because the incident is under investigation.The governor's office does not yet have the exact position or time when the snowmobilers first went through the ice.

A total of seven people were injured, two women and five men aged 25 to 50 years.

"One was injured when his snowmobile flipped over when he drove over to Fredheim," Sætermoen wrote in an e-mail.

The governor plans to conduct more interviews during its investigation of the matter. According to Sætermoen, it is too early to comment about whether there may be criminal proceedings.

Translated by Mark Sabbatini

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