If you go alongside the South Coast of Iceland, east of Reykjavik on Route 1, you might want to allow some time to stop and explore the rusting hulk of an abandoned DC-3 US Navy airplane. It has featured in many iconic images of Iceland since the 1970’s and if you are a photography buff, this is a must.
The scenery is really worth the trek and you will not be disappointed as you can climb in and on top of the plane to enjoy the sound and sight of the crashing ocean waves or the vast expanse of the black sand everywhere your eyes can see. The rusted metal carcass of the airplane, with the tail and wings missing, is in sharp contrast to the surrounding sands and in winter the feeling is very surreal. You can easily imagine you’re at the scene of a post-apocalyptic film of sorts.
For the avid photographer, the sight of the DC-3 wreck is a real feast, offering endless shooting opportunities. Even if photography is not your thing, it’ll be hard to resist shooting at least a few (or a few dozen) pictures. The ghostly and mysterious debris just draws you in and captures your imagination so you feel like a little kid - compelled to climb on top, explore the inside and look into every nook and cranny.
Where to find it?
You will find the DC-3 Plane wreck a bit off the shore of the black sand Sólheimasandur beach in the South of Iceland, between the magnificent Skogafoss waterfall and the picturesque village of Vik. It used to be possible to drive straight to it, but as it became so popular vehicles are now forbidden there in order to preserve the natural habitat. It’s an hour’s walk from the main road or you can join a South Coast quad bike tour for example and visit the plane wreck as part of it.
Even though the plane fuselage is in plain sight in the middle of an open beach, because of the undulations of the landscape, you will not be able to see it from the main road and in fact you’ll have to walk almost right up to it until it’s in plain view. Make sure you get the location right by finding it on the map or join one of the many tours going there.
Don’t be tempted to ignore the warnings and drive, it’s not just illegal but it can also result in severe damage to your vehicle if you’re not experienced and you can end up being stuck there and in need of rescuing. Also, it’s best to avoid visiting after a heavy snowfall or during very strong winds. The DC-3 plane is in the middle of a very open expanse of land and sandstorms can be pretty nasty so unless you want to be bashed about, best to plan your visit with the forecast in mind. Or consult with a reputable local guide or a tour company for a peace of mind.
What actually happened
On 24th November 1973, after severe icing, the crew of the United States Navy Super DC-3 airplane was forced to perform an emergency crash landing. No one really knows the exact reason for the emergency. The most popular version is that the pilot tried to access an empty fuel tank (even though it was later discovered that he might’ve switched over to the wrong one). Luckily, apart from the damaged plane, there were no casualties and the whole crew survived.
The fuselage was later abandoned, presumably because the area was so remote and it wasn’t worth trying to salvage it.
And this has been a remarkable stroke of luck for all local and visiting photographers since then. The remnants of the DC-3 have featured in countless photos over the last 45 years and the haunted image of the twisted wreckage has become iconic, turning the abandoned plane into a famous destination in South Iceland.
If you arm yourself with some patience, wrap up warm and come prepared with the right equipment, you’re almost always guaranteed to end up with some pretty amazing images to add to your collection. Whether at sunrise or sunset, with clear blue skies or all shapes of clouds in the background, windswept with blowing black sands swirling around it or framed by the mystical lady Aurora, the eery wreckage is guaranteed to always be an extremely photogenic subject.