The women who braved Breivik to rescue gun attack teens
Published 07/08/2011 | 05:00
THE Norwegian government is expected to honour some of those who helped rescue victims of the Utoya massacre -- among them a couple of women who helped pull many young people from the water.
Immediately after the attack on a youth camp by Anders Breivik, which left 69 dead, attention was focused on the ordeal of those who hid or fled from the gunman, and those whom he killed.
But now, the full story of some of the rescuers is emerging -- people like Hege Dalen and her partner, Toril Hansen, 35, who are being hailed by the government for their heroic efforts.
Without thinking of the risk to themselves, Dalen, Hansen and others from the lakeside campsites got into the small motor dinghies they used for holiday fishing trips, and began a rescue effort whose significance is only now being recognised.
"Together we think we pulled 250 of those kids from the water, brought them back to land and gave them blankets, calmed them down, and tried to comfort them," Ms Dalen said, speaking at her home.
"They were, of course, terribly upset, and had been through a dreadful experience. We didn't feel frightened at the time, even though we realised the mass murderer was still shooting. That came later."
Ms Dalen, 43, a frequent visitor to the Utoyavika camping site on the lake shore, and her partner, were preparing for a birthday party for Ms Hansen's daughter when they heard bangs from the island.
"At first we thought it was fireworks, but then Toril's father, who works in an ammunition factory, said they were gunshots," Ms Dalen recalled. "We went to the water's edge to see what was happening, and we could smell cordite from the shots.
"We could see more young people running in panic into the lake. At that point the island is only about 700 metres from the lakeshore. Five of us got into our boats and started to pull people from the water."
A man who was the first camper into his boat approached the island only to be shot at by Breivik, who had begun to fire at swimmers.
Ms Hansen was not far behind, while Ms Dalen at first waited on the shore and prepared to help the survivors.
"They were freezing and in shock, many of them had scratches and bruises and some had gunshot wounds," Ms Dalen said.
"The rescuers had to choose who to pick up because the boat wasn't big enough to take too many at a time. Many of the kids helped with that.
"They were brave, saying: 'take this one, he needs saving more than me' or 'take her, I can wait'.
"If we hadn't been there, I'm sure many more would have died. The waters were cold and some of them had a long way to swim."
Ms Dalen then joined Ms Hansen in the boat so that one could steer while the other pulled people from the water.
"The hardest thing about it was seeing dead bodies," she said. "It is such a beautiful place with so many lovely memories for us. The last thing we ever expected to see there was death and pain."
Neither of them were shot at during the rampage, but Ms Hansen glimpsed Breivik as she steered towards a group of young people hiding among some rocks.
"They started shouting 'he is there!' and running away," Ms Dalen said. "That's when she thinks she saw him for a moment."
The man who was first on to the lake has been so badly affected by the experience he does not want to talk about it in public, Ms Dalen said -- and neither does Ms Hansen. "Afterwards we realised what danger we had been in," she said. "At the time, we could see people who were in trouble and we just got on with it."