Death And The DC-3 Plane Wreck In Iceland

Death And The DC-3 Plane Wreck In Iceland


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Is it strange that one of Iceland’s top attraction is a plane wreck out in the middle of nowhere?

Sometime back in the 1970s, an American military plane crash landed on an insignificant stretch of black sand beach on the south coast of Iceland. They saved the engine, salvaged what they could, donated the fuel to the local search and rescue operation, and just left it there to the farmer who owns the land.

It’s still there, completely exposed to the Iceland elements, a shell that you can still enter – at your own risk.

Most people who visit know nothing about the plane. But they somehow know that it appeared in Justin Bieber’s “I’ll Show You” music video.

A Brief History Of The Iceland Plane Wreck

Before visiting, I wanted to learn about the crash. There’s a great piece from Iceland Magazine that goes into more details about the crash, but here’s the abridged 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 in and around the plane.

The captain, James Wicke and his newly trained co-pilot Gregory Fletcher, continued to fly the plane despite the lack of visibility and the failing parts. Eventually, the co-pilot chose to divert the plane towards the sea, preferring the survival odds of crashing into the water than the mountains. When they regained visibility, the plane was flying over a dark lunar-like area. The plane would shortly crash land to where it still stands today.

The Deaths To Follow

All five crew members on the plane survived the crash landing on the beach. The morbid irony is that since the crash, the location has claimed more lives from tourists, who make the 3.5 km walk from the parking lot to the beach, than the crash ever did.

The most recent incident actually occurred just a few weeks before I visited the plane in early 2020. Search and rescue found a Chinese couple only a short distance apart, with the cause of death listed as exposure. The incident 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 3.5 km long 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. Disorientation and going off track can happen to anyone. Temperatures can drop fast 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 the viral exposure from social media, travelers often flock, en masse to previously off-the-beaten path destinations. The image of a trekker atop a weather-stripped plane wreck, alone on a barren black sand beach, invokes a sense of rustic solitude that, for some reason, appeals to a surprisingly people who rarely even go hiking.

It appears everyone wants to get their own shot with the plane. 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 visit inadequately prepared.

If you type in ‘plane wreck’ into Google Maps, it’ll point 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.

The path is pretty easy to identify when weather conditions are clear, that goes almost in a straight line between the lot and the wreck on the beach. The walk takes about 40-60 minutes each way.

If you don’t want to walk, there’s a roundtrip shuttle bus that for 2900 ISK. The shuttle bus follows the same path.

Planning a trip to iceland, check out my 7 DAY WINTER ROAD TRIP ITINERARY and all the ADVENTURES we did.

Visiting The Plane Wreck In Winter

The path is flat and open to the plains on both sides. I visited in the winter time and I found it to be incredibly beautiful, white as far as the eyes can see with mountains in the distance. When we visited, the path was easy to identify, even with the hail and snow. We had micro-spikes attached to our shoes and had no problems with traction. We also layered up with a thermal base, wool sweater, down jacket, and a rain shell.

Check vedur.is before you do any long hikes in Iceland to make sure there are no dramatic weather system moving in wherever you are. Know your limits and whether you can walk the 7 km it takes for the roundtrip.

if want a winter adventure activity, go DRY SUIT SNORKELING in between two continental tectonic plates.

Is The Iceland Plane Wreck Worth Visiting?

I have mixed feelings on giving a one size fits all answer. If you are going just the for photograph, you might be disappointed – it’s just a small airplane shell on a beach. Great for a photograph, but little else.

Because of the distance, this location is not crowded. There’s a shuttle so groups will come and go, but if you walk in, you might have it to yourself for a while, especially if you go early or really late in the day.

For me, the journey to the plane was the best part. Hail and whipping winds added an element of adventure to the journey and made us feel like we had to earn the right to see the plane.

We had the place to ourselves by just waiting for everyone to get on the bus and leave – until the next bus arrived.

If you opt to visit, I recommend setting aside 3 hours and doing the trek instead of the bus. You should also take a walk along the beach. The barren moon-like surface that the co-pilot described is still there. It’s beautiful, especially with a snowy white backdrop.

Looking for more travel inspirations? Scroll through some of the 450+ experiences on my bucket list. Maybe you’ll find your next adventure on there.

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Updated on May 29, 2024

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2 Comments

  • 7 months ago

    I was there a few years ago, not in winter but in summer. Back then it was already quite crowded. If you’re already in Iceland, it’s certainly worth a visit.

    • 4 months ago

      It was completely deserted when I was there in the winter time. Very nice.

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