Nine people were hospitalized Thursday, and one remains in critical and unstable condition, after nine Russian snowmobilers broke through the sea ice in Templefjorden, according to The Governor of Svalbard.
An expedition of about 20 Russian tourists and four guides were traveling from Pyramiden to Longyearbyen as part of the a five-day trip scheduled to end Friday when the incident occurred, according to NRK. The governor’s office was notified by people in Barentsburg at about 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Both of the governor’s rescue helicopters were sent out and reached the accident site at 6:11 p.m., according to the Norwegian Joint Rescue Coordination Centres. One helicopter picked up four people in the water at 6:25, two more were rescued on the ice a short time later and brought aboard the Norwegian Coast Guard’s Svalbard vessel, but finding the last three people who managed to reach Fredheim on the ice proved more difficult and, according to NRK “a dive search was initiated” before other snowmobilers located them.
“One person is critically injured and unstable,” the University Hospital of Northern Norway in Tromsø wrote in a statement issued at 7:40 a.m Friday. “The other patient who has been transported to Tromsø is seriously injured, but is now stable. The other three patients have received the necessary medical supervision at Longyearbyen Hospital. All patients were exposed to moderate to life-threatening hypothermia in the accident.”
Although some parts of the ice in the fjord were known to be unstable, an officials from the governor’s office told Svalbardposten it is not yet certain if the accident occurred in one of those areas. The governor’s office is investigating the accident to determine if negligence was involved.
Officials also sent out a notice that the K/V Svalbard created a long, open crack in the ice between Fredheim and Kapp Schoultz during the rescue operation.
Eleven other tourists and a guide who were some distance from the group that fell through the ice returned to Pyramiden and are awaiting further developments, Katerina Zwonckova, marketing manager for Arctic travel company Grumant, told NRK.
Mads Gilbert, a clinician at the Department of Emergency Medicine at UNN, told the network the incident shows why Svalbard and Northern Norway need upgraded capabilities including long-sought air ambulance capable of greater speed and range.
“This requires us to send special equipment but we cannot load it on board our ambulance flight because the weather conditions are such that the propulsion aircraft we have today has such major weight restrictions that we can not reach Longyearbyen with the necessary personnel and equipment,” he said.
(This story will be updated as details are made available.)