The wreck Iceland's 66° relic

The DC-3 is arguably one of the most recognisable historic aircraft around. Once a symbol of the might of the US air forces and innovative aircraft design, this particular example now lies naked on a black beach in Sólheimasandur beach, South Iceland. My first priority when I visited Iceland was to find this hulk of a shell, preserved at it’s crash site despite standing up against the arctic elements since it came to rest on 21st November 1973. In those 43 years its aluminium body has been dented and bruised. Its windows lost, its tail and wings nowhere to be seen, and its cockpit gutted, this truly is now a unique piece of art and nostalgia combined. Now, I had a massive research session before my trip in an attempt to figure out where this thing was and how I was going to get there, and it was hard work. The descriptions were limited and I was getting the feeling it was a big secret, but this things in the middle of nowhere and if someone wants to find it they should be forearmed with the necessary information so I intend to share what I can to help. First of all, you need to be on route one, part of Iceland’s Golden Circle route, on the south of the island near Vik. I was staying in Reykjavik so I got up before sunrise to drive down there in time for the sun to come up. That, in itself, was a bit of a difficult thing to do because the road, despite being the main road for the country, was buried under several inches of snow, slush and ice, which was still falling from the dark night sky. Sometimes horizontally in the Arctic wind. The mountain pass at Hvergerdi was particularly difficult but fortunately I was following a pair of snow ploughs on the descent, illuminating the pure white on either side of me with their blinding orange lights. It was so mentally draining trying to negotiate this pass in my little Hyundai rental (which, by the way, was actually the fastest car in the world) that I had to stop and grab a coffee at Bakhuis in Selfoss, along with some sustenance to keep me going on the walk to the airplane. If you’re interested, the Swiss Mocha was 8/10 on my international coffee rating, and the ham and cheese roll was a winner. The difficult part of the drive came next. Knowing where to stop was always going to be difficult. It’s 100 miles from Reykjavik to the gate to Solheimasandur beach but it’s hard to distinguish whether you’re there or not without GPS, which I didn’t have. My intention when considering packing was a proper map, which I had (and importantly, was waterproof) and a compass (which I forgot!) so I had to do some guesswork. Eyjafjallajokull was a landmark I knew I would pass, which in itself got me a little excited anyway. It had caused literally thousands of flights in European airspace to be cancelled some 5 years ago, and I would see the famous thing on my travels. It was pretty awesome, sitting there all majestic and mighty, hiding it’s terrifying power under a wonderfully bright glacier. At the foot of its southern slope I found a farm building which I wondered was something to do with its last eruption, sitting with a gargantuan chuck of rock, no a mountain in fact, resting on it’s roof. Behind it, however, was an even bigger monster of a volcano named Katla. It was at least 3 times the size yet its reputation was dwarved by Eyjafjallajokull. Being the king of the selfie, even if it is self proclaimed, I couldn’t pass it by without one!

Anyway, getting back on track, the wreck is actually on a path which is laid into the spectacular, vast black sand beach. The entrance lies unmarked from the main road, and is about 6 miles long. I took to the path on foot because my little rental was just not going to manage the terrain. In fact, my feet struggled and my legs were left sore after the little used muscles in them were brought to life as I tried to maintain my balance on the slippery, slushy sand. My walk back was cut short and I was kindly offered a ride with a couple of American brothers who had hit Iceland for a few days. Their 4×4 was very welcoming as the sleet came down on me. Where was I? Off track again! So, the way on to the path! I took some pictures to help anyone else visiting :- As you can see, the gate is set back to the south side of the road. There’s a small sign prohibiting cars and motorbikes and behind the gate the path kinks to the right. This is your way in – look out for it! When you’re in you need to follow the path marked out with the small posts.

They lead you just short of the wreckage. It’s a long walk! The landscape here is surreal. It’s black and rather otherworldly. It undulates and is criss crossed with small waterways. It’s the result of volcanic activity on this relatively young yet almost alien terrain. When you see the plane it’s shining aluminium fuselage stands out brightly in contrast to everything around it. So there we have it – a wreck of a United States Navy Douglas DC-3 Dakota or, in American, a C-47 Skytrain, lying in the middle of nowhere on Solheimasandur beach in Iceland. Good luck if you go out to find it! Here’s the pics I mentioned of the path in to help (and the building under the rock) - the road they’re taken from is route 1.

Iceland is simply stunning. It’s a photographer’s dream and a beautifully diverse place. Lacking in fauna, it more than makes up by offering a breathtaking view around every corner.

On my third trip to Iceland I arranged to meet up with Þorir to discuss this world famous wreckage. On a brisk morning in Vík we talked about his experience on the day the plane crashed. Well it was actually a forced landing!

I was there the same day it crashed. It was because of icing in the carbeureteur. They didn't run out of fuel like most people think, the tanks were full. They landed on the beach on purpose because they had failures and it is large and flat. I was in the rescue team. The rescue team here is not a full time job, it's made up of people who do it in their free time. They don't get paid for this job. When we arrived the crew had left by helicopter from the army base at Keflavík. I never met them. The plane was intact and the Americans took the motors, the wings, the instruments and a little bit more. They spent 2 weeks collecting what they wanted and after that they didn't come back again. The canopy, the nosecone, the tail, they were all still there. The plane just lies there now, it's hard to say who the owner is today. It may be that the farmer is the owner, it's been left on his land for all these years. It's been there since 1973 so the Americans obviously don't want it. The rescue team gave us the fuel. It was several hundred litres and we used it to run our snowmobiles for a long time. I think they took the tanks for the fuel and moved them several hundred metres from the plane and destroyed them. I have never found them but they are there somewhere. I've been back several times but not so often anymore. It's changed a lot. I took photos of the plane just after it crashed. I love to take photos and you will always find me taking new photos. The northern lights are my favourite thing to shoot.

It was a pleasure to meet Þorir and discuss his experience being at the crash site the very day the plane came down. To throw the myths away and hear the true story was fascinating and having met him online via Facebook and talked briefly via chat I knew I wanted to meet him for real. So many times now I've met people online and arranged to meet them for real and I implore you to do it too. Þorir gave me some photos from the day the plane came down and you can see the stark differences between then and now where the harsh Icelandic weather has taken it's toll and souvenir hunting tourists have collected moments piece by piece. You can even see, if you're familiar with the crash site, that the fuselage has been turned around.

If you visit Vík there's a wool shop, and if you visit Skógar there's a gift shop. In both of those places you'll see time lapse videos of the Aurora on the screens and you can buy USB's filled with these time lapses and photographs of Iceland as a souvenir. These USB's are made by Þorir, so if you want to support a local legend and awesome photographer you know what to do.

Created By
David Williams


Copyright David Williams and Þorir Kjartansson

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