Ötzi the Iceman was found near Hauslabjoch in the Ötzal Alps on September 19, 1991, by Helmut and Erika Simon, two vacationing German hikers.
Helmut was walking a bit ahead of his wife, when he spotted something. He thought it was some trash left by a careless hiker. But when he and his wife looked closer, they realized that they were looking at the body of a person, lying face down in some melting ice.
Disturbed by their discovery, they assumed that they had found the mummified remains of an unfortunate mountain climber. Since it can be difficult to recover the body of a fallen climber, especially if a fresh snowfall covers the area, many people who have died in the mountains are often left there. Their body freezes and does not deteriorate; many such mummies have been recovered.
Helmut Simon wanted to take a photo, but his wife was appalled at the thought of taking a photo of a dead person. Still, Helmut managed to take one photo of the body (he had only two left photos on his roll of film). Then he got closer in order to inspect the body, which was in kind of gully. He saw an object or two around the body, but they meant nothing to him.
The Simons weren't sure that they would report the body. They wondered if their vacation would be interrupted by completing police reports and other official requirements when a body is discovered.
But after hike down the mountain for an hour, they stopped at a rustic lodge for something to drink. Only then did they decide to report their find to Markus Pirpamer, the caretaker of the lodge. In turn, he called the proper authorities who said they would recover the body the following day. The Simons, believing that they had discovered only a modern corpse, could not wait and continued down the mountain, heading for their hotel. Before they left, they provided Pirpamer with directions to the findspot.
When the authorities arrived, they were well aware that the glacier had been melting. Three weeks earlier, the bodies of a man and woman who had gone hiking in 1934 and never returned had been discovered. For this reason, they, like the Simons, assumed that the person had died in a climbing accident.
This explains why the Iceman's "rescuers" made quite a few careless mistakes: they weren't trying to preserve and protect the body, they were just trying to free it from the ice. At first, using a stick that they found nearby (later discovered to be his bow), they attempted to pry him free. They also tried to pull him from the ice by grabbing onto what was left of his clothing. In the process, they shredded it. One policeman was so anxious to free the mummy that he took a small jackhammer to the ice, accidentally drilling a hole in the Iceman's hip. And Pirpamer used an ice pick to finally extract the Iceman. (Brenda Fowler gives a thorough account of all the mistakes made in Iceman, Chapter 2.)
When he was finally freed, the Iceman was forced into a coffin, which caused his left arm to break. Then, when photographers were given time to take pictures of the mummy in a nearby morgue, a fungus began to spread across the Iceman's skin.
In the end, Italian and Austrian authorities were shocked to discover that, rather than being a modern-day mountain climber, the man had died about 3000 B.C. He quickly came to be known as the Iceman, one of the oldest and best preserved human mummies ever found.
Of course, other people have since come forward to claim that they discovered the Iceman first.
Slovenian actress Magdalena Mohar Jarc was one. After she saw the body, she went to find someone to take a photo of the discovery. The people she reportedly found to take the photo were the Simons who stole the discovery from her.
A Swiss woman named Sandra Nemeth was another. She believed that she found the Iceman before the Simons and that she got into an argument with the couple about the discovery. Then she spit on Ötzi to make sure that her DNA would be found on the body, thus verifying her claim. No trace of her DNA was ever discovered, though.
Italian courts have concluded that the Simons were the Iceman's true discoverers. To read more about their fight for recognition (and a little money), read about their lawsuit.