ICE-SAR - Icelandic search and rescue teams have your back

Iceland Travel Info ICE-SAR - Icelandic search and rescue teams have your back

Iceland’s population of about 330 000 people are scattered around the 103 000 km2 island, with two thirds living in the Reykjavík metropolitan area and one third in small communities around the country. Because of the long distances all emergencies cannot be attended to by the official authorities in time, so the Icelandic Search-And-Rescue service, ICE-SAR, has volunteers based around the country to help out people in need.

Project Manager at Safetravel, Jónas Guðmundsson explains what kind of training the ICE-SAR volunteers get: 

- Usually people apply for the teams in autumn and start a 1-2 year training. After finishing that they will become members. In that time they learn first aid, mountaineering, climbing and so on.

According to the ICE-SAR website there are about 100 rescue teams, with thousands of volunteers with special training in different fields from mountaineering to medical skills, who have agreed to be available whenever needed. This system has also brought the rescue teams attention worldwide. 

The ICE-SAR’s origins are from 1918, when the Westman Islands Rescue Team (Björgunarfélag Vestmannaeyja) was founded. Since then the ICE-SAR and its parent associations have brought to Iceland the first rescue ship and helicopter, improved traffic safety and started the Maritime Safety and Survival Training Centre. 

Today the numerous volunteers help out both tourists and locals with whatever Icelandic circumstances throw their way. Gunnar Örn, based in Hvammstangi, has been with ICE-SAR for 20 years and has experienced all different kinds of tasks:

-       Last year we were called out 55 times, and these are serious calls, not towing cars. That is a lot. The most dangerous areas here near Hvammstangi are the rocks near the ocean where people want to take photographs but the most common problem tourists face here are road conditions they haven’t been prepared for. Just a few weeks back we rescued Chinese tourists stuck in their car. They had never seen weather like this!


ICE-SAR member Guðmundur from Skaftafell also has similar experiences:

- I joined ICE-SAR in 2010 both out of interest but also out of necessity. The communities are small so everyone available is needed. Especially now the huge increase in tourism is a big challenge for us. Road and weather conditions surprise people who aren’t used to this kind of extreme circumstances. Last winter, during a big blizzard, we rescued dozens of cars that had gone off the road. Our team around Skaftafell mostly deals with incidents on Route 1, responding to accidents and situations regarding bad weather. Occationally we also deal with hikers who have been injured. We are well equipped to encouter any conditions, among them an old armoured vehicle from the German army. People tend to be pretty impressed when we arrive in it.


Icelandair Hotels is an active sponsor of ICE-SAR, donating a fixed proportion of hotel room income to the association. Supporting ICE-SAR is a part of the Icelandair Hotels’ social responsibility policy. Having a strong search and rescue team available when needed is of the greatest importance, not only for Icelanders but also for foreign visitors who regularly need its assistance. ICE-SAR is thereby a strong supporter of tourism in Iceland, and it is invaluable for tourists to be able to count on the selfless work of Landsbjörg. 

Each Icelandair Hotel, eight in total, has a room or a suite dedicated to a search and rescue event that occurred in its region. These rooms contain detailed information, photographs and other items that relate to the event. Thus, the stories of the individual search and rescue achievements of Icelandic rescue teams throughout the country are shared with hotel guests who are, moreover, invited to support this excellent cause.

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