Flagpole turned fatal in freak accident

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A family was left in shock on Christmas Eve when a 49-year-old mother of three was killed while walking with her family into church services at Oslo’s picturesque Holmenkollen Chapel. Strong winds broke off the chapel’s flag pole, which hit the woman in the head, and she died instantly.

Holmenkollen Chapel, located next to Oslo's Holmenkollen Chapel, was the site of a fatal accident just before Christmas Eve services were due to begin. PHOTO: flickr.com

Holmenkollen Chapel, located next to Oslo’s Holmenkollen Chapel, was the site of a fatal accident just before Christmas Eve services were due to begin. PHOTO: flickr.com

Holmenkollen Chapel, located next to the ski jump with the same name, is a highly popular venue for special ceremonies and not least its annual Christmas church services, which also are often attended by members of Norway’s royal family. King Harald, Queen Sonja, their daughter Princess Martha Louise and her family were among those mourning the woman’s death when they gathered for services the next day.

The church’s pastor, who conducted what was supposed to be a Christmas Day service full of light and hope, lit a special candle for the congregation in memory of Heidi Rusten Lohrmann, who had been declared dead at the scene by ambulance personnel at around 1:30pm on Thursday, Christmas Eve afternoon.

“Today we feel a sense of powerlessness and helplessness, after something that also feels so meaningless,” Pastor Hanne Elstrøm told the congregation, with the royals sitting in the front row. She then lit a candle at the front of the church and led a prayer for the deceased.

Police are investigating the fatal accident, but said it appeared the extremely strong winds that blew over Oslo both on Christmas Eve and during the night into Christmas Day had broken the flag pole in two. “There’s a break cutting right through the remains of the pole,” Magnus Strande, operations leader for the Oslo Police District, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

He said the victim’s family “of course was in shock. They were standing outside the chapel when the flag pole fell.” He said they were driven home by health care professionals, who were to look after them with a crisis team.

There were many other witnesses to the fatal accident, according to organist Petter Amundsen, who had been playing the organ inside but ran outdoors in an effort to help. He told NRK that several others yelled warnings when they suddenly saw the flag pole appear to break off slowly and then crash to the ground. He said several others escaped injury. “Everyone feels just wiped out here,” Amundsen said, referring to the other shocked observers and church personnel.

All remaining Christmas Eve services were cancelled but the church was kept open for anyone seeking solace, and the organ music continued. Pastor Trond Bakkevig, who’s in charge of all the churches in the area around Holmenkollen, called the fatal accident “a deeply tragic event. The family came here to celebrate joy at Christmas, to begin a celebration they had been looking forward to. It should have been a celebration of joy, and then the exact opposite happens.”

Lohrmann was a department head in the government ministry of labour and social services. “Our thoughts go to her closest family,” Ellen Seip, the top non-political leader of the ministry, wrote in a statement published Saturday. “Heidi was a highly competent colleague whom many were so fond of. She will be deeply missed.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund