Two of the 18 defense department personnel stationed on the remote Arctic island of Jan Mayen were killed over the weekend by an avalanche while out skiing. A third member of the group managed to dig himself out after two hours under the snow.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen and the chief of Norway’s defense forces, Eirik Kristoffersen, all sent their condolences following the unusual fatal accident that hit the small community hard. The victims were a woman in her 50s from Western Norway and a man in his 30s from Nordland who were both civilian defense employees.
Jan Mayen is an important strategic base for Norway and staffed by groups of 18 employees serving in six-month rotations. The three caught in the avalanche were out skiing on a recreational tour Saturday when the avalanche hit shortly before 2pm. The lone survivor didn’t manage to get back to the base until nearly 5pm but both victims were found and declared dead around 7pm.
“My thoughts and sympathy go first and foremost to the families, the small but tightly knit community on Jan Mayen and also to friends and colleagues in the defense department,” Bakke-Jensen said. “It’s painful when we’re hit by such tragedies.”
Kristoffersen added that defense employees “working on Jan Mayen do an important job there every day, on Norwegian territory but far from home.” Jan Mayen is located around 1,000 kilometers west of Norway and north of Iceland, accessible only by the military’s Hercules transport planes and naval vessels as needs arise. Two coast guard ships were redirected to Jan Mayen to provide support.