The image haunted me from the time I first saw it, almost a year ago. It was like a western ghost town, frozen in time and devoid of its long-ago daily activities and life, or a Mayan city abandoned and rediscovered in the jungle.
Only this was a relic redolent of our own age and progress: An American DC-3 airplane, once a technical marvel, then a workhorse on the back roads of the air, marooned virtually intact where it crashed in 1973 on the black sand beach of Sólheimasandi in Iceland.
In November of 1973, the plane ran out of fuel, and came down. Nobody died. All aboard were rescued and resumed their lives. But the plane remained, an unintended, little-known monument to the inevitability of nature in a land of jaw-dropping glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs, and fjords.
Few outsiders have heard of Sólheimasandi, and fewer have made it there. But it was, of course, one of my prime goals when I got to Iceland. With a bit of preparation and patience, a visitor can find the site, as I did in August.
There is no clear exit or signage to get to the DC-3, but an easy place to start is Skógafoss. From Reykjavík, head East on Highway 1. Skógafoss, two hours away, is one of the most breathtaking waterfalls on Iceland’s Ring Road.
“It was like a western ghost town, frozen in time and devoid of its long-ago daily activities and life, or a Mayan city abandoned and rediscovered in the jungle.”
From Skógafoss, continue East for 11km on Highway 1 (approx. 10 minutes). On the right side of the highway, you will see a smaller road with a gate. Follow this side road. You do not absolutely need a 4×4 to access it, but it would make the going easier. (For a satellite map of the location of the plane, click here)
During our visit, my companion and I were lucky enough to meet another set of visitors as they exited the side road. We were told to continue down towards the water for about five minutes to the crash site. Keep driving until you see the plane.
You can climb inside the plane, which is full of sand and debris. I enjoyed exploring the inside. Be careful of sharp edges and wires. There are also gaps in the base of the plane, particularly at the front.
Pay close attention to the details and explore every corner of the plane. The carcass has been on the black volcanic sand beach for 40 years, but has yet to show much decay.
You can climb up to the roof of the plane fairly easily. I was able to reach the roof both at the front (from the inside) and from the back (from the outside). Climb at your own risk!
Words and Photos: Zach Glassman