The DC-3 Plane Wreck, plunked on the glacial outwash of Sólheimasandur, is one of the most one-of-a-kind sights in the whole world and obviously an enigmatic splendour of the Icelandic landscape. Set off for an hour-long drive from the parking lot of the Ring Road and dive into a world of unworldly panoramas.
The picture-postcard attraction of Iceland, Solheimasandur plane wreckage surely makes viewers think it's a digital or animated contrivance, but to most of their surprise, it is actually real. The famous plane is perched on a remote corner of the South Coast, amidst the volcanic sand. The crashed plane is a 1 hour walk from the parking lot and has an incredible history going back to WW2.
The American aircraft served as a transport supplying war essentials to different bases until its crash in 1973. After being scraped of all its valuables, the plane was left on the beach. It then became enigmatic wreckage, calling photographers and visitors who wanted to witness the plane in its full glory, throughout the seasons.
The mesmeric scenery has caught the fancy of several filmmakers and artists. No wonder the DC-3 plane wreck has been a part of advertisements, Dilwale, a Bollywood film, and Justin Bieber’s video I’ll Show You in 2015.
The world-famous Plane Wreck in the middle of nowhere has proven to be of great artistic appeal, and several movies, music videos, and pictures have used it as a backdrop. The Plane Wreck lying at Sólheimasandur, South Iceland has an interesting background too. Going back to the times when the American Army was positioned in Iceland, such aircrafts were used to transfer supplies.
The date of the crash is still a mystery as the official US records state the crash happened on the 24th of November, but in reality, the actual date of the crash of the Douglas DC 117 Airplane was the 21st of November 1973. On this day, the aircraft was transporting supplies to the American Army station near Höfn from Keflavik. Even in the event of the crash, there are differing narratives. Some blame it on mechanical failure and fuel shortage while others say the crash was inevitable due to the encroaching storm.
The most plausible story was the aircraft getting stuck in the thick fog and forceful winds, which caused ice to accumulate on the plane, and the temperature fell below -10 celsius. As the engines started to fail and the airplane started to get surrounded by fog, lowering visibility, the crew started to panic, unfortunately, heading to the slope of the nearby mountain.
Mr. James, the captain of the aircraft, directed his efforts to save the plane, but nothing seemed to be in favour. The crew was convinced that they were not making it out alive once the airplane started running out of fuel.
The co-pilot Gregory Fletcher, who was still in training, decided to navigate the plane South and attempt a landing in the Ocean South of Iceland. The ocean landing was still a risk, but their chances of survival were still higher than hitting the mountain, so he took it as their only chance at life.
To the surprise of the crew, they were faced with a lunar-like landscape when they came out from clouds. Aiming for the Atlantic Ocean, what they saw was an unforgettable sight of a pitch-black beach instead.
Making an emergency landing on the frozen beach of Sólheimasandur, the aircraft stopped just 6 meters away from the sea. Even though the craft was badly damaged after the landing, not a single person was injured, and it was all that mattered. Fletcher was also awarded an Air Medal Bronze Star for his presence of mind and wise decision in the face of crisis.
After the landing, it was found that the airplane had holes in the fuel tanks which led to the shortage of fuel and that they had to leave the crash site as soon as possible. They took all the emergency requisites and started contacting the army base in Keflavik. The rescue-chopper arrived an hour later, and the crew was taken to the hospital for a full-fledged health checkup. All of them turned out fine.
Later, the US Navy decided to look for valuables that could be recovered, and after they had taken whatever they wanted to, the wreckage was left at Sólheimasandur beach.
The plane was left abandoned because the US army had stopped producing its kind and was about to stop using the plane as well, so there was no point in investing efforts and resources in reviving it. Today, the wreckage at Sólheimasandur beach is one of the most unique attractions in the whole world, receiving thousands of onlookers and globetrotters.
Located on the South Coast in Iceland, the DC-3 plane wreck is just right off the Ring Road. It is 164 kilometers from Reykjavík, 215 kilometers from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, and 535 kilometers from Akureyri.
The attractions lying close to the wreckage are the Cape of Dyrhólaey and the Skógafoss waterfall, each about 15 kilometers away.
GPS: 63°27'32.7"N 19°21'53.4"W
The breathtaking drive from Reykjavik to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck continues along the Ring Road One towards the east. Crossing the towns of Hverager, Selfoss, Hella and Hvolsvöllur, you will come across the spectacular waterfall Seljalandsfoss and the popular stratovolcano Eyjafjallajokull. The last attraction of this exhilarating ride is the Skógafoss, and after passing through the river Jökulsá, you will reach the parking lot.
The 2 hours and 15 minutes non-stop drive will bring you to the wreckage. However, there’s too much to see, so we would suggest pulling over and viewing the attractions.
When driving from East to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck, you will pass Eastfjords or will be driving on the Ring Road towards West. The town of Höfn and Vatnajökull National Park will lie on the right side of your drive.
Then, you’ll pass through the glacier outlets of Europe’s most voluminous glacier, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, and Diamond Beach. Making your way through Skaftafell and Kirkjubæjarklaustur, you will arrive in the parking lot in less than 15 minutes once you reach Vik. This ride from Jökulsárlón to Solheimasandur Plane Wreck lasts for about 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Approaching the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck is a bit difficult due to the imposed restrictions, one of which is the prohibition of cars on the beach. So, you will have to park your vehicle in the parking lot and continue by foot for an hour to reach the wreck. Situated about 3.5 kilometers down South off the road, the plane is not visible from the road.
Skógar campsite is the closest camping site to the plane wreck.
Open: All Year Around
Service on Site:
Vik Camping Ground is the second most proximal camping ground to the plane wreck.
Open: 15th May to 30th of October
Service on Site:
Please note that wilderness camping is forbidden along the entire South Coast. Campers of all types are obligated to use the designated campsites.
Hiking down to the plane wreck is one of the most breathtaking experiences in all of Iceland. However, hikes get a bit difficult in winter as the trails are mostly covered in snow, and the snowfall makes it difficult to navigate due to poor visibility. But that doesn’t mean you can’t visit the plane wreckage during winter! Just get a professional guide to accompany you, and you are good to go for the expedition. Tourists have a reputation of getting lost in the pursuit of the Solheimasandur plane wreckage during winter, but the Icelandic Search and Rescue Team in their prompt service has always been able to rescue them.
Films and Documentaries:
Heima (2007) - Sigurrós, the popular Icelandic band, created Heima (2007) translating to “at Home”, a documentary about their homeland.
Justin Bieber - the American sensation shot two videos - Cold Water and I’ll Show You in Iceland. The video went over the entire country in a span of minutes. If you stop at 2:10 in the music video, you’ll find Beiber skateboarding near the plane wreck!
Gerua - Shah Rukh Khan & Kajol (2015), the most-watched song of Dilwale, because of its striking backdrops, was also shot in several places of Iceland. If you pause at 1:29, the duo can be seen romancing on the top of the airplane wreckage. If you wish to have a closer look at the plane wreckage, make sure to watch the video!