Iceland Plane Crash History
In 1973 a US Navy Douglas DC-3 aircraft crash landed on a remote beach in Iceland after experiencing difficulties during the flight. Some say the aircraft had icing issues, while others say the plane ran out of fuel after the pilot flipped the wrong switch. The crew of seven survived the crash relatively uninjured, but the plane was a loss and abandoned by the Navy. For years the fuselage of the plane sat relatively unnoticed at a place known as Sólheimasandur, a vast expanse of black sand beach on the south coast of Iceland.
There were few visitors in the early years after the crash as the site was relatively hard to find and few people in Iceland had the desire to visit a forgotten plane wreck. Then, several factors came together to launch the Iceland Plane Crash site onto every adventurer’s bucket list. Surreal photos of the iconic plane spread rapidly when the Internet became common, and Facebook and Instagram social media photos added to the mystique. Also, due to some of these same factors (Internet and social media), Iceland became one of the world’s ultimate travel adventure destinations, and soon there were throngs of GPS-equipped adventurers driving across the black sand seeking the ultimate Facebook profile photo.
Eventually, area landowners restricted driving on the pristine black sand to the crash site. A parking lot was built on Ring Road and a trail was marked off to guide hikers to the location.
Iceland Plane Crash Location
The Iceland Plane Crash (also referred to as the DC-3 Plane Wreck) is located on the south coast of Iceland, about four miles from famous Skogafoss waterfall and about fifteen miles from the town of Vik. It is about 100 miles (about two hours) drive from Reykjavik. The parking lot for the crash site is on Ring Road and the wreckage is about 2.5 miles from the lot. The lot is not marked from the roadway, but it’s the only parking lot seemingly out in the middle of nowhere. (Location of parking lot at Google Maps)
I didn’t count the parking spaces but I would guess there is parking for about 50 vehicles at the trail head. Prior to my visit to the Iceland plane crash site, I had driven past the parking lot several times (during the day) and the parking lot was always full with dozens of vehicles. I knew that visiting the site during the day was not optimal due to the crowds. Fortunately, it’s still daylight late into the evening during the summer months in Iceland. After a nice dinner at my accommodations at the Hotel Drangshlid, I headed out to the Iceland plane crash site at about 9PM.
It was still daylight when I reached the parking area. At about 9:30PM there were still more than a few vehicles in the lot, but it certainly wasn’t as crowded as during the day.
The Safety Rules sign at the parking lot has important information for visitors:
- The hike to the plane and back is over 7 km / 4 miles
- It takes at least 3-4 hours to hike both ways (more on this later)
- Use the right clothing, at least 2 layers, one which should be windproof and waterproof
- In the winter the daylight is short and you can often experience strong wind
- Follow the sticks to avoid getting lost
- Do not climb on the plane (this rule is largely ignored, more on this later)
- In case of emergency call 112
I did follow the sticks to the crash site, but there were several people (going and coming) that walked 100-200 meters parallel to the official path. The path is a mixture of sand and rocks. Traction is an issue, and you will want to try both the inside and outside of the path to find the best traction for your shoes and gait. I think I walked near the outside of the track with a good mixture of sand and rocks (not too rocky, not too sandy).
In addition to walking to the crash site, you may also be able to rent a fat tire bicycle for the journey. The bicycles are rented from a trailer in the parking area. I’ve seen the trailer during the day, but there was no trailer on my 9:30PM visit. Also, I’ve learned there is a shuttle that operates from the parking area between 10AM and 5PM every day. That certainly takes the sense of adventure out of the experience, in my opinion.
One of the advantages of making the trek at 9-10PM is that it was near sunset and the Golden Hour. And boy was it golden! I could hardly believe my eyes and I can say this was the most spectacular sunset I have ever witnessed. The above photo was my view to the west (my right) on the way to the crash site. Below is the view looking to the east (left). Amazingly, the sunset lasted the ENTIRE THREE HOURS of my visit, as the Arctic Sun moved left to right (or right to left, I’m not sure) just above the horizon (instead of going down). The sun shining on the rich Icelandic landscape was a treat to behold, and made the entire experience even more unforgettable.
You don’t see the Iceland plane crash site until you are almost there. Except for the brilliant sunsets (on my visit), the hike is rather mundane, across a large expanse of volcanic sand and rock. It took me about 45 minutes walking at a good pace to reach the site.
I was happy to see there were not too many people at the wreckage.
Several people climbed on the plane during my visit. One lady cut her hand rather badly when coming down from the top. Be careful if you climb on the top!
Everyone was respectful of each other as people took turns taking photos and exploring the plane.
You can feel how rickety the plane is when you go inside. The plane is in very poor condition and I wouldn’t be surprised if the authorities remove the plane at some point in the future due to safety concerns.
The hike back was just as incredible. This is an unfiltered photo.
Overall I spent a total of about three hours on my visit at the Iceland Plane Crash, 45 minutes going, about an hour and a half at the crash site, and 45 minutes on the hike back to the parking lot. This was a summertime visit on August 8th. The temperature was about 45 to 50 degrees in my estimation with a strong north wind. I wore a lightweight waterproof jacket by Kuhl, blue jeans, and my Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX hiking shoes.
I was fortunate on my visit to not have any rain or other precipitation. But of course that will not always be the case for every visit. You should be prepared for wind, cold and rain, and also snow and ice, depending on the date of your visit. The geography of the location is a vast black sand beach resembling a desert. There are dust storms as well. So be prepared with layered and ample clothing. In January 2020, two Chinese tourists died of hypothermia during a storm at the site, so be careful and be prepared for your visit.