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Swedish Ice Skater Rescue Operation
Baltic Sea Archipelago - South of Stockholm
~ By Kathie Fry, Editor of SkateLog.com
~ Article Posted Thursday March 20, 2003

On February 15, 2003 a large group of Swedish recreational ice skaters became stranded in the open sea when the ice started breaking up under their feet. Here's what happened that day plus 10 incredible photos of the rescue operation.

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Copyright © Swedish Maritime Administration
Next Photo -->

The First Call for Help
On Saturday, February 15 at 12:15 p.m. Swedish Search and Rescue (SAR) Mission Coordinator Birger Knutsson received a distress call from a person who said he and approximately 20 recreational ice skaters were stranded on blocks of ice in the Baltic Sea archipelago and the ice floes drifting toward the open ocean. Their position was approximately 60 kilometers south of the city of Stockholm:

LOCATION OF THE STRANDED SKATERS
See the blue circle near the bottom of the map

Skaters Started Falling in the Water
At the time of the call, at least one skater had fallen into the water but they had already managed to climb back onto the ice.

A Rescue Party Was Dispatched Immediately
SAR Coordinator Birger Knutsson and the other members of his team organized a rescue operation and immediately sent the following boats and helicopters to the skater's location:

Helicopter #1 - CH46
Helicopter #2 - S76C

Boat #1 - Hovercraft
Boat #2 - Pilot Boat

Second Call - 50 Skaters Now Stranded
At 1:00 p.m. (13:00) the SAR received a second distress call, saying about 30 additional people were stranded on drifting blocks of ice, and now there were approximately 50 skaters who needed to be rescued.

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Skaters Stranded on Ice Floes

Rotors on Large Helicopter Sink Ice Floes
When the first helicopter (Vertol 107 CH46) arrived and tried to lift the first skater off of the ice, the down-force from the helicopter rotors was so strong it caused the thin ice floe to turn over and sink, dumping the skater in the water before he could be hoisted up into the helicopter.

Waiting for a Smaller Helicopter
The pilot of the large CH46 helicopter decided to land on a small rock overlooking the area, so it could relay reports back to the MRCC. Flights of the CH46 were limited to picking up skaters who fell in the water, and later shuttling skaters from the rocks and small islands in the area to a safer spot on a nearby larger island.

The Small Helicopter Picks Up Skaters
When the second smaller S76C helicopter arrived it was able to rescue some of the skaters by hoisting them into the helicopter on a rope, because that helicopter's smaller rotor did not create enough force to break up the ice.

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Skaters Being Lifted Into the Smaller Helicopter
(be sure to select "View Larger Image" on each page)

The Hovercraft Arrives
A small seven-seater hovercraft arrived about the same time as the second helicopter, and it joined in the rescue operation, shuttling skaters from the now very broken up ice to safety on small rocks and islands.

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Hovercraft Picking Up Skaters
(photo taken from the pilot boat)

Pilot Boat Concerned About Breaking Up the Ice
When the larger pilot boat first arrived, its crew was hesitant to enter the area, for fear of breaking up the ice even more. When it became clear that the hovercraft and helicopter alone would not be able to rescue all of the people quickly enough, they entered the area and picked up 16 of the ice skaters.

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Pilot Boat Picking Up Skaters

Rescue Operation Ends After 2 Hours
By at 2:20 pm (14:20) all of the skaters were safely on land, and no one was missing or injured. Helicopters searched the area for more skaters but they found that no one else was trapped on the ice. Two hours after the first call was received, the search and rescue operation came to a successful end.



From Birger Knutsson, Rescue Team Coordinator
"Skating on natural ice, especially in the Baltic Sea archipelago, is very popular recreational activity in this part of Sweden. The different skating clubs are constantly searching for new snow-free sections of natural ice suitable for skating. On this beautiful sunny day, there were reports of new ice in the area where the incident took place.

Reports say 350 skaters were taken by bus from Stockholm to this part of the archipelago. They then divided into smaller groups of 10 to 15 people for recreational skating, picnics on the ice, and a good time with their friends. A couple of these groups ventured too close to the edge of the ice, causing it to break up. This happened very quick leaving a group of skaters stranded on small ice floes.

My own speculation is that curiosity about the presence of helicopters in the area (the rescue team) drew spectators to the area, and some of those skaters also ended up drifting on ice floes. But the most important thing is that no one got hurt and all skaters were safely rescued."


From Thure Björck, Skating Club President
"I am happy none of our skating friends were injured. The incident took place in an inlet south of Stockholm. The ice was OK during the week before the incident, but during the skate waves started arriving from the sea and the ice began to break apart at noon. The rapid arrival and efforts of the rescue team probably saved the lives of some of the skaters on the breaking ice sheets. The board of our skating club is investigating what caused the critical situation and we hope this will lead to safer skating on ice in the Baltic Sea Archipelago in the future."

Photos of the Incident
These photos were taken by the crews of the pilot boat and the smaller helicopter. Photos were provided courtesy of the Swedish Maritime Administration and Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Gothenburg, Sweden. For each of these photos, be sure to select "View Larger Image" to get a really good look.

RESCUE OPERATION - PHOTO SLIDE SHOW
INDEX TO ALL PHOTOS



Information Sources:
SWEDISH MARITIME RESCUE COORDINATION CENTER
- Birger Knutsson, SAR Mission Coordinator
- Magnus Gustafsson, Duty Officer
STOCKHOLM SKATE SAILING CLUB (SSSK):
- Thure Björck, Club President
- Ulf Haase, Club Member


Related Links
Rescue Operation Photo Gallery - 13 Photos
Swedish Maritime Administration - (in English)
Stockholm Skate Sailing Club - (in English)
Ice Skating in the Stockholm Archipelago Ulf Haase


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