A COUPLE feared for their lives after getting caught up in a terrifying snowstorm while on a dream holiday in Iceland.

An idyllic snowmobile excursion became a nightmare, as blizzard conditions engulfed the group, sparking a major rescue operation. About 200 people took part in a major Icelandic rescue to bring the tourists back safely.

Barry Maxey, 54, and his partner Michelle Smith, 49, were forced to dig snow shelters and huddle together with the other six members of their group as they waited hours for help to arrive.

The pair, from Dalston near Carlisle, arrived in Iceland on Sunday for a five-day getaway. They had booked a day trip with tour company Mountaineers of Iceland to go on a snowmobile tour to the Langjökull glacier, the second largest ice cap in the country.

They were sent out with a large group of 39 snowmobiles to explore the ice caves and wintry surroundings when the severe snowstorm suddenly set in during the afternoon.

Barry told The Cumberland News: “We set out at midday and arrived at the ice cave at about 2pm.

“The storm came in at about 3pm, which cut our trip short. The tour company knew a storm was on the way, but still decided to go out anyway.

“Members from the team hoped a bulldozer-style machine would have been suitable to get us out, but that later didn’t work.

“As the hours went on, the blizzard failed to blow out, so we were forced to dig snow shelters and huddle together to keep warm.”

The hours that followed were terrifying, and Barry and Michelle feared they would die.

“There were four people from Brazil with us, including a 15-year-old boy,” Barry recalled. “Given we live in Cumbria, we knew the conditions would be harsh and packed lots of clothes. I wrapped the boy up in some of my clothes to keep warm.

“It was freezing. I thought that was going to be the end for us, given how long we were out there and the intense blizzard.

“Eventually, help arrived and all of us had to walk hand-in-hand through the pitch black to a mini bus, and we arrived back at the hotel at about 2am.

“We’re so lucky someone was looking over me and Michelle. The Iceland search and rescue, and the Red Cross were awesome.”

Mr Maxey claimed the tour company had no emergency equipment, and the tourists were left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

He added that it wasn’t until 9pm - about six hours after the storm arrived - that the company called the emergency services for help.

“I’m just surprised an established organisation such as this didn’t bring anything else with them, so they have back-up plans and resources in place should the worst happen.

“The fact they didn’t call for help until late on in the evening is also very concerning.

“I got frostbite and Michelle injured her ankle as a result of what happened,” Barry added.

The pair, who flew back home from Reykjavik to Glasgow from their trip yesterday, intend to seek legal advice in relation to the actions of the Icelandic tour company following their ordeal.

Haukur Herbertsson, the manager of operations for Mountaineers of Iceland, held a press conference with local media after the incident made national headlines in the country.

He told Icelandic press organisations they they were aware of the weather forecast, but had estimated the tour group would be back from their trip before the storm set in.

Mr Herbertsson said: “We clearly made a mistake by going into the ice cave.

“We probably made more mistakes than that. At this point I don’t know what all of them are.”

The Cumberland News contacted the company to comment further on the incident, but had not received a response at the time of going to press.