"It's unbelievable that the barrier didn't hold"
One of the worst car accidents in Iceland happened between Christmas and New Year's Day in 2018. Three people were killed, including an 11-month-old baby, when a car crossing a bridge over the Núpsvötn River, near the Skaftafell Natural Reserve, flew over a barrier and fell several meters down. There were seven people in the car, two families from the UK.
Þorsteinn Matthías Kristinsson, the commissioner of the South Iceland Police, was the first to arrive on the scene. "It was just unbelievable," Þorsteinn says about the Land Cruiser that cut through the barrier and fell into the riverbed.
"Bridges should be built to stop a car in such places, even if the driver makes a mistake. The bridge's construction should protect the vehicle from such a serious accident, which did not happen in this case. At the time, there was simply a large hole in the barrier, through which the car flew and fell off the bridge."
Þorsteinn points out that the bridge had only one lane at the time, and drivers often drove very fast through it. The day after the accident, the speed limit on the bridge was lowered from 90 to 50 km/h. The bridge's surface was not asphalt but metal; it got very slippery in winter, and the barrier on the bridge was not very high.
"This bridge has always been one of the dangerous ones," - Þorsteinn says. "Not to mention after the tourist traffic skyrocketed in those years."
Guide Adolf Ingi Erlingsson was the third person to arrive at the scene of the accident, after police officer Þorsteinn and Kirkjubæjarklaustur nurse Auðbjörg Brynja Bjarnadóttir.
"It's terrible to encounter something like that on the road," says Adolf Ingi. "It's even worse to see a dead child and then find a dead woman inside the car and realise that another one is also dying."
Adolf Ingi says he often thinks about the accident. "I still work in the industry and drive across that bridge regularly," he says. "I don't think I've ever driven over it without thinking about that day."
The first winter episode of the weekly Kveikur, which airs every Tuesday at 8 p.m. on RÚV TV, will feature a discussion on the accident on the Núpsvötn River Bridge and road safety in Iceland. The survivors of the accident, a father and daughter, will speak in the program about the tragedy and its consequences.
The program will be broadcasted with English subtitles on RÚV 2.
Editor's note: Kveikur is RÚV TV's winter program, hosted by a team of investigative journalists.