May 24, 2013 at 2:58 PM ET
A group of American tourists have been rescued from a drifting Icelandic iceberg that broke off from land as they were trying to picnic upon it, complete with folding chairs and table.
The five imperiled picknicers are safe, plucked by a small rescue boat from the ice slab floating atop deathly frigid waters of the Fjallsárlón glacial lagoon in Iceland, five-and-a-half hours east of Reykhavik.
“The ice was solid when they got there, but when they set the table and chairs the wind changed and the next minute they were blown some 10-15 meters into the lagoon,” Hornafjörður rescue team volunteer Páll Sigurður Vignisson, who piloted the picnickers to safety earlier this week, told NBC News.
“The scene was comical – they were sitting on the chairs around a table, on a piece of floating ice," said Vignisson. "But the iceberg could have cracked or flipped over any minute, throwing them into very deep, almost frozen waters."
With its breathtaking glacial lagoons and volcanoes, Iceland is highly prized tourist destination. Some 600,000 are expected to visit Iceland this year, double the local population. The tourists can sometimes be more eager than experienced, resulting in up to 20 serious cases annually requiring rescue squad intervention.
“They don’t know the area, nor how to drive over a river, and they don’t know how to behave if the car gets stuck," local RÚV reporter Björn Malmquist told NBC News. "They often either get lost on foot or driving in the highlands.”
Or by grabbing a sandwich in an ill-advised locale.
When Vignisson first reached the group he noted that the tourists were, “not at all scared, pretty calm, laughing and joking about the whole thing, despite that they had been stuck floating for about an hour. They just didn’t realize the risks they were running. They thought they were doing something real cool."
One of the group members was able to jump to shore just as the iceberg broke off and place a call requesting rescue. Police arrived and spoke with the tourists, but didn't press charges.
Vignisson said he hoped the incident would prompt authorities to put up signs saying "forbidden to have picnics here."
"If you think about it, it’s a totally crazy idea: ice behaves in an unpredictable way, you never know what may happen."