Operation Napoleon Online - Arnaldur Indridason Page 0,1

so they knew most of the British and American aircraft by the sound of their engines. But they had never heard anything like this before. And never before had the roar been so close, as if the plane were diving straight for their farm.

They went out on to the front step and stood there for some time until the roar of the engines reached its height. With their hands over their ears they followed the sound towards the glacier. For a split second its dark body could be glimpsed overhead, then it vanished again into the blackness. Its nose up, it looked to be trying to gain height. The roar gradually receded in the direction of the glacier, before finally dying away. They both had the same thought. The plane was going to crash. It was too low. Visibility was zero in the appalling weather and the glacier would claim the plane in a matter of minutes. Even if it managed to gain a little height, it would be too late. The ice cap was too close.

They remained standing on the step for several minutes after the noise had died away, peering through the blizzard and straining to listen. Not a sound. They went back inside. They could not alert the authorities to the course of the plane as the telephone had been out of order since the lines came down in another storm. There had not been time to reconnect it. A familiar nuisance. Now a second blizzard had blown up, twice as bad. As they got ready for bed, they discussed trying to get through to Höfn in Hornafjördur on horseback to report the plane once the weather had died down.

It was not until four days later that the conditions finally improved and they were able to set off for Höfn. The drifts were deep, making their progress slow. They were brothers and lived alone on the farm; their parents were dead and neither of them had married. They stopped to rest at a couple of farms on the way, spending the night at the second, where they related the story of the plane and their fear that it had almost certainly perished. None of the other farmers had heard anything.

When the brothers reached Höfn they reported the aircraft to the district official, who immediately contacted the Reykjavík authorities and informed them that a plane had been seen south of the Vatnajökull glacier and had almost certainly crashed on the ice. All flights over Iceland and the North Atlantic were monitored by air traffic control at the US army base in Reykjavík, but they had been unaware of any aircraft in the area at the time – the conditions had meant traffic had been at a minimum.

Later that day a telegram from the US military headquarters arrived at the office of the Höfn district official. The army would immediately take over investigation of the case and see to it that a rescue party was sent to the glacier. As far as the locals were concerned, the case was closed. Furthermore, the army banned all traffic on the glacier in the area where the plane was believed to have gone down. No explanations were offered.

Four days later, twelve military transport vehicles rumbled into Höfn with two hundred soldiers on board. They had not been able to use the airstrip in Hornafjördur, as it was closed during the darkest winter months, and Höfn was cut off from the capital to the west by the unbridged rivers of the Skeidará sands. The expedition force had had to circumnavigate the country in six-wheeled vehicles equipped with snow-chains, driving first north, then south along the East Fjords to reach Höfn. The journey north had been arduous, as the main road was little more than a dirt track, and the expedition had been forced to dig their way through heavy drifts all the way across the eastern desert of Mödrudalsöraefi.

The troops were soldiers of the 10th Infantry Regiment and 46th Field Artillery Battalion under General Charles H. Bonesteel, commander of the US occupying force. Some of the men had taken part in the army’s winter exercises on the Eiríksjökull glacier the previous year, but in practice few of them could even ski.

The expedition was led by one Colonel Miller. His men pitched camp just outside Höfn in barracks built by the British occupation force at the beginning of the war, from where they made their way to the glacier. By the time the soldiers