Crash-landing on Iceland: Aircraft wreck in lava sand

Crash-landing on Iceland: Aircraft wreck in lava sand

On the south coast of Iceland you will find one of the few sights that is not natural. In the black sand of Sólheimasandur, the wrecked plane of a DC-3 Dakota provides spectacular perspectives.

It is misty November weather. A DC-3 Dakota of the US Navy is currently on its way to Europe. Arctic weather caprioles are shaking the small plane powerfully through the air. Suddenly, the engines cut out. The nearby airport in Höfn seems unreachable. The pilot has to act and makes an emergency landing on the beach of Sólheimasandur.

Iced carburettor forced pilot to make emergency landing

This, or at least something similar, must have been the events of November 21, 1973. At least that is what the landlord of Halldórskaffi in the nearby village Vík tells us. An icy carburettor forced the crew to make an emergency landing. Nobody was injured. Pilot and crew got away with the horror.

Iceland's ghost ship: Weather gnaws at the plane wreck

Since then, the Dakota has resided like a ghost ship in the barren desert landscape of Sólheimasandur. Strictly speaking, it is a Douglas C117-D – the military version of the DC-3. The weather and souvenir hunters have taken their toll on her face over the decades. There is not much left of the cockpit. The outer skin of the wreck appears to be sifted by countless shots.

Difficult access to the area prevented salvage

Countless aircraft parts are scattered around the machine. The missing wings and engines make the scenery appear particularly dramatic. Because of the impassable terrain, Icelanders and Americans decided together not to recover the wrecked aircraft. They dismantled the most important parts and left the rest to its fate. That was over 40 years ago now.

Pilgrimage site for adventurers and photographers

For a long time, the Dakota was considered an insider tip among photo nerds and lay largely unnoticed in the sand. The documentary film “Heima” by the Icelandic rock band Sigur Rós in 2007 helped the machine to its first publicity. At latest since Justin Bieber skateboarded on his roof in his music video for “I’ll Show You” (2015), the plane wreck became known far beyond the country’s borders.

Best travel time, journey, tours, accommodation

The Dakota lies in the middle of a barren desert landscape. There is really nothing there except black sand. In short: In bad weather there is no possibility to seek shelter. For this reason, the hike to the plane wreck should only be undertaken in good weather. There are good chances for it in the summer months May to August. In winter a visit to the Dakota is rather not recommended. Since the weather on Iceland can change very quickly, you should inform yourself about the current weather situation before starting the hike, for example with the weather app Vedur.

The plane wreck is located on Iceland’s south coast. It is about 30 kilometres west of the village of Vík í Mýrdal. Just a few years ago you could drive with a four-wheel drive vehicle directly to the Dakota. Due to the large number of visitors, the area at Sólheimasandur is now closed for cars. Those who want to see the wreck have to walk a good four kilometres. The tour starts at an unimpressive parking place at the ring road in Sólheimasandur. Coming from Reykjavík, the parking place is located barely eight kilometres behind the Skógafoss on the right side. The 45-minute hiking trail leads through a barren desert landscape of black sand. The only accent in the big nothing are yellow markings made of wood, which show the way to the plane. Even the Dakota only shows up on the last few metres.

Here are the exact GPS coordinates: N 63° 27.541 W 19° 21.888

If you prefer to visit the Dakota with an organized tour, there are several possibilities. Most tours combine the Dakota with other highlights on the south coast. Those who only want to save themselves the four kilometres long and comparatively boring walk can also take a shuttle bus for about 22 Euro (return trip).

The village of Vík í Mýrdal, located about 30 kilometres east of the Dakota, offers accommodation in all categories and price ranges. The offer ranges from luxurious hotel rooms to simple guesthouses and cosy cottages. Outdoor fans will find a nice and affordable place to stay at Vík Camping in a tent, caravan or cottage. Even beyond accommodation, holidaymakers in Vík will find everything they need on a trip: a supermarket, a petrol station and several restaurants and cafés.

Photo tips: Motifs & Equipment

The visit of the plane wreck at the beach of Sólheimasandur includes an interesting tour and really great photo motifs. The unusual scenery offers a cornucopia of panoramic motifs and extraordinary details. Especially dramatic are wide-angle shots of the plane wreck in front of the backdrop of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. For maximum flexibility the equipment should include a wide-angle lens (ideally 15 – 28mm). Details of the cockpit, outer skin and aircraft parts can be captured perfectly with a telephoto lens with a focal length of about 200mm. Alternatively a zoom lens (e.g. 28 – 105mm) can be used. However, you should make sure that the light intensity is sufficient (3.5 – 5.6 or stronger).

The most beautiful pictures are taken at sunrise or sunset. Then the light is particularly soft and envelops the area in an atmospheric atmosphere. Due to the vastness of the sandy desert, taking panoramas is a good idea.

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