Death And The DC-3 Plane Wreck In Iceland
Death And The DC-3 Plane Wreck In Iceland
Here’s something I find oddly amusing. One of the popular attractions for the ‘Gram chasing visitors to Iceland is a plane wreck out in the middle of nowhere. Correction. An American plane wreck out in the middle of nowhere.
What’s out there is a shell remnant of an old plane that crash landed on an insignificant stretch of black sand beach back in the 70’s. The American military scrapped it for engine and everything that was salvageable, donated the fuel to the local search and rescue operation, and just left it there for the farmer who owns the piece of land.
Most people don’t know this. But they do know that Justin Bieber filmed a part of his “I’ll Show You” music video here.
A Brief History Of The Iceland Plane Wreck
Before visiting, I think it’s worthwhile to know a little about the crash. There’s a great piece from Iceland Magazine that goes into more details about the crash, but here’s the 30 second version. On November 21, 1973, the Douglas C-117 belonging to the US Navy, was flying back to Keflavik from Hofn. It was caught in a storm and the rapidly dropping temperature caused ice to build up on the plane.
The captain, James Wicke and his newly trained co-pilot Gregory Fletcher flew the plane with almost zero visibility and failing parts. Eventually, the co-pilot decided to divert the plane out to sea in hopes of a high chance of surviving a crash over the waters than into the mountains. When they regained visibility, he thought he was flying over somewhere that resembled the surface of the moon. Shortly after, the plane would crash land to where it still stands today.
The Deaths To Follow
All 5 crew members on the plane survived the crash landing on the beach. The morbid irony here is since then the location has claimed the lives of several tourists, who make the 3.5 kilomenter walk from the parking lot to the beach, with the most recent incident occurring just a few weeks before I visited the plane in early 2020. A Chinese couple were found a short distance apart with the cause of death being listed as exposure. This was eerily similar to another tourist death in 2018 when the body of an American of Indian descent was found on the beach near the plane wreck. The cause of death was also extreme exposure to the elements.
To understand how this could happen, you have to know that Iceland’s winter weather can change dramatically at any time. There’s a local saying that goes, “if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait 5 minutes.” The ‘path’ from the parking lot to the plane wreck is about 3.5 kilometers and can easily be obscured and covered by snow.
In white out and windy conditions, it can be nearly impossible to see where or what direction you’re going. It’s then becomes very easy to be disoriented and go off track. Temperatures can drop quickly and if you’re not adequately prepared, prolonged exposure can be fatal. It’s sad, but a combination of bad luck and poor preparation makes this attraction potentially more dangerous than most visitors give credit.
What’s The Fascination With The Plane Wreck?
With social media and particularly Instagram, travelers have, in recent years, been able to bring mass ‘exposure’ to previously off-the-beaten path destinations and sights. The image of a lone trekker standing atop a weather-stripped plane wreck alone on a barren black sand beach invokes a sense of rustic solitude that, for some reasons, appeals to a surprisingly large number of at home screen swipers.
It appears everyone wants to get their own shot of pretending to be alone at the plane wreck. Here’s mine.
How To Get To The DC-3 Plane Wreck at Solheimasandur Beach
Maybe you want to visit and get your own photograph here too. I’m not judging. I just want you to do it right and safely in light of the recent deaths of tourists who ignore warnings or don’t do any planning before visiting places.
If you type in ‘plane wreck’ into Google Maps, it’ll point to to the ‘Solheimasandur Plane Wreck’, which is the location of the parking lot right off Highway 1. From here, it’s about a 3.5 kilometer walk to the plane wreck and the beach.
There’s a pretty easy to identify path that goes almost in a straight line between the lot and the wreck. It usually takes about 40 minutes to walk each way. There’s also a shuttle bus that takes you in and out for 2900 ISK (~$23 USD). That’s the round-trip price and it’s the same whether you take it one-way or both. The shuttle bus goes right down the same walking path.
Visiting The Plane Wreck In Winter
The path is easy and is flanked by the plains on both sides. I visited in the winter time and I found it to be incredibly beautiful. It was white as far as the eyes can see with mountains in the distance. When we visited the path was very easy to make out, even with the hail and snow. We had these micro-spikes on over our shoes and we had absolutely no problems with our traction. We were also properly layered up with thermal base layers, wool sweaters, down jackets, and a rain shell.
But, I did see people walking in with loose fitting mom jeans and Nike running shoes, the fashion ones, not the ones for athletes. This one particular couple also had on oversized coats that either make you look really hip or homeless (depending on who you ask). They didn’t button or zip up either, because, you know, looks better that way for the stories.
Had the weather actually been really bad, this decision to choose fashion over function (and warmth) could have be dangerous or fatal.
Check vedur.is before you do any long hikes to make sure there’s no dramatic weather system moving on wherever you are. Know your limits and be sure you can walk the 7 km it takes to go in and out.
Is It Worth Visiting?
This was another place that people gave me mixed responses about whether I should visit or not. At the end of the day, it’s just an old airplane on a beach. Great for a photograph, but little else.
Because you have to trek 7 km or take a pretty pricey bus to get there, it’s not AS crowded as other locations nearby, but you probably won’t have it to yourself unless you’re there really early or really late (outside of the bus shuttle hours).
I personally really enjoyed the whole trek to the plane. The hail and whipping winds only added character to the journey and made us feel like we earned the right to see the plane. Maybe. Or it could just be me trying to justify not wanting to pay $23 USD for a 10 min bus ride.
To get the place to ourselves, we just had to wait for everyone to get on the bus and leave. Then it’s just the other walkers and you until the next bus arrives. If you opt to do this whole thing, I recommend setting aside 3 hours and doing the walk in and out. Also walk further down to the water. The barren moonlike surface that the co-pilot described is still there. It’s beautiful, especially with a snowy white backdrop.
Is this on your things of to see or do? Need some more cool adventure ideas, check out my personal bucket list for inspiration.