David and Gail Wilson, the Australian couple who were lost for seven hours on Langjökull glacier in a blizzard on Thursday, harshly criticized the company which organized the snowmobile tour, Mountaineers of Iceland, for having gone ahead with the tour in such weather.
The Wilsons told their story on RÚV on Friday (click on the link and the play button under their picture to listen to the interview).
They explained that they were on the last snowmobile in a row of 11. There were four guides with the group but no one behind the couple. David accidentally killed the engine and didn’t know how to start the snowmobile again, saying he hadn’t been taught how to.
The Wilsons lost sight of the next snowmobile and the guides didn’t realize straight away that they were missing. The couple stayed put as they had been told and waited for the guides to return but when no one came for two and a half hours—and having figured out how to start the engine in the meantime—they tried to follow the tracks back to camp.
However, the couple lost the tracks and eventually dug a hole in the snow to seek shelter. They switched off the engine to save power but when they noticed the search and rescue services, they turned it on again. They search parties saw the lights of the snowmobile and found the couple.
One of the owners of Mountaineers of Iceland, Herbert Hauksson, said he regrets the incident and that work methods will be reviewed. However, he maintains that his company did not make any mistakes. There hadn’t been a storm warning for that area, he reasoned.
The Icelandic Met Office had forecast a blizzard in the central highlands on Thursday, as stated on ruv.is. Langjökull is in the western highlands.
Herbert explained that a guide hadn’t been positioned behind the couple because the group had split into two as some of the drivers hadn’t been able to keep up with the first snowmobile.
Herbert criticizes the couple for having moved away from the spot where they came to a stop. He doubts that they waited for two and a half hours—otherwise his employees would have found them, he states.
Deputy-chair of the Iceland Tourist Guide Association Snorri Ingason said it is clear that tour operators and guides are responsible for the people on their tours. He stated that it is far too common that tours are run during uncertain weather conditions.
“Considering the weather forecast that day, they shouldn’t have gone ahead with the tour,” Snorri told RÚV. He stressed the importance of a guide being positioned behind the last tourists in a group to make sure that no one is being left behind, especially on glacier tours.
With a regulatory framework and quality certifications lacking in the Icelandic tourism industry, a major accident is waiting to happen, Snorri claimed.
“The companies make their own rules and reevaluate them day by day. The regulatory framework is missing. The certifications are missing. Not just in glacier tours but in the tourism industry as a whole,” Snorri added.
Snorri wouldn’t comment on whether Mountaineers of Iceland made a mistake. “When something like this happen people should be humble, apologize to those affected and try to learn from the mistakes,” he opined.
Snorri concluded that there has been an awakening within the industry about the risks involved with mass tourism and the importance of taking precautionary measures before a serious accident happens. “We have human lives in our hands and we don’t want to wait for this big accident where people die, so we have to take precautions.”