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Stranded traveler rescued from site near Iceland's erupting volcano after using flashlight to signal SOS

A pilot in Iceland wanted to see the ongoing eruption of a volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula. He took to the air – and discovered a stranded traveler using a flashlight in the "pitch dark" to signal for help just miles from where lava had surfaced

Ernir Snaer Bjarnason told Reuters that he and his friend Finnir Snae Baldvinsoon took off from Reykjavik Airport on Dec. 19, a day after the volcanic eruption began near the evacuated town of Grindavík

"When we were getting closer, around 5 kilometers [3 miles] from the eruption, we spotted a flashlight or a light of some kind and then we spotted another one," he said. "We saw that one of them was pointed directly towards us and was flashing us an emergency signal like the S.O.S. Morse code signal." 

Á níunda tímanum í gærkvöld var þyrlusveit Landhelgisgæslunnar kölluð út ásamt björgunarsveitum Slysavarnafélagsins...

Posted by Landhelgisgæsla Íslands/Icelandic Coast Guard on Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The pilot said they thought it was "quite strange" to see someone when it was "pitch dark outside." So they contacted the local air traffic control to report the emergency signal. With no way to contact the stranded traveler, he said that all he could do was hover, and wait for emergency officials to arrive. 

"I was flying my plane just exactly above him, just taking circles ... and there he was," he said. "...I could see his lights and I could see he was in distress but I couldn't, I could only rock my wings or flash some lights at him but I couldn't tell him 'Wait, the helicopter is coming, just stay calm.'"

The Icelandic Coast Guard said on Facebook that the man, who has not been identified, was rescued and "had become cold and raw after a long stay outside," according to a translation. He was flown to Reykjavik for medical attention, Reuters said. 

The volcanic eruption started Monday after weeks of anticipation, with locals experiencing thousands of earthquakes and a small local fishing village seeing its ground crack open, prompting evacuations. Lava fountains have been seen shooting up 98 feet in the air, as the eruption created a fissure 2.5 miles long. 

On Thursday, Iceland's meteorological office said that "no volcanic activity was observed" in the morning hours, and that it appears "as though there is no activity in the craters." 

"However molten lava can be seen within the new lava field," the office said in its update. "The volcanic activity seems to have come to an end late last night or early morning. Despite that it is possible that lava is flowing underneath the lava coat in lava tubes and therefore it is not possible to say that the eruption is over."

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