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Nestled within the otherworldly volcanic sands of Iceland's South Coast, a haunting wreckage offers a stark yet fascinating contrast to the alien-like terrain. This site not only captivates visitors with its visual paradox but also serves as a poignant link between the United States and Iceland, symbolizing a shared history etched in the vast expanses of Iceland's natural canvas.
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Viktória Komjáti
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21 Nov 2023
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The Intriguing History of the DC-3 Plane Wreck on Solheimasandur

During World War II, American forces established a military presence in Iceland. This deployment was part of a broader strategy to secure vital North Atlantic sea lanes and to prevent Germany from establishing a foothold in the region.

Iceland joined NATO in 1949, and the U.S. Air Force established its Air Base Group at Keflavik Airport in 1951, later becoming our international airport, the ultimate gateway to the world for Iceland. The U.S. Air Force maintained a presence there until 2006.

In addition to the Keflavík base, the U.S. Navy operated four radar stations in Iceland, including one near Hornafjörður in the east. These stations, primarily for aviation monitoring and submarine detection, required regular supplies.

Watch this Inspirational Video about the Iconic Plane Wreck

Aerial view of the plane wreck on the black sand

On the fateful day of November 21, 1973, the day before Thanksgiving, an aircraft was on a mission to transport supplies from Keflavik to the American Army station.

While official US records claim that the crash occurred on November 24, Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið reported the event in its November 22 edition, indicating that the crash actually happened on November 21.

Captain James Wicke was flying the plane when severe weather hit. Temperatures dropped to -10 °C or 14°F, and winds reached 96 km/h or 60 mph, causing the engines to freeze and fail amid heavy turbulence and fog. The crew, unable to see outside, feared crashing into a mountain.

As they flew over Vatnajökull, Wicke sent a mayday signal. The distress call prompted immediate action, with three Phantom jets and two helicopters dispatched and nearby ships alerted.

Despite the dire circumstances, the 26-year-old Lieutenant Gregory Fletcher, still in training and had only flown 21 hours in a C-117, made a decisive move.

Instead of allowing the plane to crash into the mountains, he navigated it south, intending to land in the Atlantic Ocean. While this decision posed risks, the chances of survival were higher than a catastrophic collision with the mountain.

As the plane emerged from the clouds, a Thanksgiving miracle unfolded before the crew's eyes—a vast, pitch-black beach, perfectly flat and stretching for miles, offering an unforeseen glimmer of hope.

Seizing the opportunity, they made an emergency landing on the frozen beach of Sólheimasandur. Despite the damage the aircraft suffered, it stopped just six meters short of the sea. Miraculously, not a single crew member was injured.

Abandoned plane wreckage in sunset
The plane wreck under the midnight sun

The Aftermath: An Unexpected Attraction

Following the crash, it was discovered that holes in the aircraft's fuel tanks were the cause of the sudden fuel shortage. After the crew was rescued and given a clean bill of health, the US Navy recovered any valuable items from the wreckage.

The damaged aircraft was left at the crash site. Under the Status of Forces Agreement between Iceland and the U.S., if an American plane crashed in Iceland, the U.S. would cover 85% of recovery costs, with Iceland responsible for the actual removal. However, it would only occur if a landowner filed a claim to remove the wreck, but that never happened.

Over time, the wreck became a poignant reminder of this dramatic event and an enigmatic symbol of human triumph over adversity.

Today, the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck, set against the stark beauty of the Icelandic landscape, draws in thousands of visitors from around the globe, adding an unexpected attraction to this naturally blessed land.

Iconic Plane Wreck in the Media: From Bieber to Bollywood

The isolated yet strikingly beautiful Solheimasandur Plane Wreck hasn't gone unnoticed by the media either. It was featured in the 2015 music video 'I'll Show You' by Justin Bieber, and also in 'Dilwale', a renowned Bollywood film, besides making appearances in several advertisements. The wreckage's unique setting has indeed proven to be a significant artistic allure.

Justin Bieber - I'll Show You

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Where Is Solheimasandur?

Situated on the coast of South Iceland, right off the Ring Road, Sólheimasandur is approximately 164 kilometres (102 miles) from Reykjavík. The Dyrhólaey Cape and Skógafoss waterfall, two other fantastic tourist spots, are just about 15 kilometres (9 miles) away from the site.

Making your way to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck isn't just about reaching the destination; it's also about savouring the journey. Whether you're driving from Reykjavik or from the East, you'll pass several awe-inspiring attractions like the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the renowned stratovolcano Eyjafjallajokull, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, and Diamond Beach.

As you drive along the road between Skógafoss and Dyrhólaey, you may notice a spot with many cars parked. It may seem like it is in the middle of nowhere, but this is the parking lot by Solheimasandur.

To visit the plane wreck, prepare for a long walk, taking up to an hour each way. It's an invigorating stroll over 3.5 kilometres (2 miles), where you'll experience the vast expanse of volcanic sand and the striking isolation that embodies the true essence of Iceland.

A group of people visiting the plane wreck in ATV-s
Joining an ATV tour is a fun and easy way to get to the plane wreck

Essential Tips for Your Visit to the Wreckage

While the walk to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck can be a thrilling experience, the ever-changing Icelandic weather can significantly influence the journey.

The best time to visit the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck is during the Icelandic summer, between May and August, due to milder weather and longer daylight hours.

In good weather, the walk from the parking lot to the wreck is relatively straightforward and manageable for most fitness levels. The flat black sand beach provides an easy path, making it an enjoyable trek for seasoned hikers and casual walkers alike.

The breathtaking landscape around you with the contrasting starkness of the black sand and the Icelandic sky creates a mesmerising backdrop for your journey.

However, Iceland's weather is known for its unpredictable nature. The walk can become a challenge if you're caught in sudden fog or rain.

Visibility can drop dramatically in a matter of minutes, transforming the otherwise easy trek into a navigation puzzle. In such conditions, the black desert becomes a vast, disorienting expanse, making it almost impossible to track back to your path if you lose your way.

Before embarking on your journey, it's essential to check the local weather forecast and take heed of any advice or warnings issued by the local authorities. Dress appropriately, layering your clothes to adjust to changing conditions, and carry essential supplies such as water, snacks, and a reliable navigation tool.

We advise against attempting this hike in the winter months. The harsh Icelandic winter brings not only freezing temperatures but also regular snowstorms, which can cover the path entirely.

The visibility during these storms is near-zero, making the trek dangerous and the plane wreck almost inaccessible. The safety and well-being of visitors are paramount, so it's best to plan your visit outside the winter season.

Remember: there are guided transportation services available all year round. Take an exciting ATV tour or the shuttle bus to the plane wreck to ensure a fun and safe experience.

Questions and Answers about Solheimasandur Plane Wreck

Tours to the plane wreck

A rider crossing a river on a Atv in iceland
  • Summer Deal
1 hour

ATV Quad Express on Sólheimasandur

Welcome to an extraordinary ATV experience that transcends the ordinary – our Quad Bike Adventure awaits at the Mýrdalsjökull Base!

€166
Save 15%
From €141/person
ATV Journey Across a Lake, Unforgettable Off-Road Experience
  • Summer Deal
2 hours

ATV - Black Beach Safari and the Plane Wreck

Looking for an active tour in south Iceland? Get an adrenaline rush while riding an ATV on vast black sand beaches! This thrilling 2-hour guided tour includes breathtaking views of the surrounding area and a visit to the Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck.

€213
Save 15%
From €181/person
Sólheimasandur, airplane wreck, flugvélaflak, c-117
  • Summer Deal
1 hour

Plane Wreck Shuttle

Hop aboard the Plane Wreck shuttle for the 4 km (2.5 mi) to the DC-3 aeroplane wreckage on the hauntingly beautiful black sand beach of Sólheimasandur. The shuttle is available seven days a week between 10:00 and 17:00 and takes just 10-15 minutes to get to the plane!

€20
Save 15%
From €17/person
A person on a ATV looking at a plane wreck in the icelandic black beach
  • Summer Deal
10.5 hours

South Coast & Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck Black Beach ATV Adventure

Explore Iceland's legendary South Coast, where the thundering cascades of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss await. Amidst the shadow of the mighty Katla volcano, feel the thrill of an ATV ride across scenic valleys and black sand expanses, leading you to the iconic DC-3 plane wreck on Sólheimasandur beach. A harmonious blend of tranquil vistas and heart-pounding adventure!

€220
Save 10%
From €198/person

Recommended tours

A person on a ATV looking at a plane wreck in the icelandic black beach
10.5 hours

South Coast & Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck Black Beach ATV Adventure

Explore Iceland's legendary South Coast, where the thundering cascades of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss await. Amidst the shadow of the mighty Katla volcano, feel the thrill of an ATV ride across scenic valleys and black sand expanses, leading you to the iconic DC-3 plane wreck on Sólheimasandur beach. A harmonious blend of tranquil vistas and heart-pounding adventure!

€220
Save 10%
From €198/person
Sólheimasandur, airplane wreck, flugvélaflak, c-117
1 hour

Plane Wreck Shuttle

Hop aboard the Plane Wreck shuttle for the 4 km (2.5 mi) to the DC-3 aeroplane wreckage on the hauntingly beautiful black sand beach of Sólheimasandur. The shuttle is available seven days a week between 10:00 and 17:00 and takes just 10-15 minutes to get to the plane!

€20
Save 15%
From €17/person
ATV Journey Across a Lake, Unforgettable Off-Road Experience
2 hours

ATV - Black Beach Safari and the Plane Wreck

Looking for an active tour in south Iceland? Get an adrenaline rush while riding an ATV on vast black sand beaches! This thrilling 2-hour guided tour includes breathtaking views of the surrounding area and a visit to the Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck.

€213
Save 15%
From €181/person
Two people in bright jackets standing at the entrance of a vast ice cave, with one person pointing towards the inside. The cave's inner walls glisten with layers of ice, and the snow on the ground enhances the cave's ethereal beauty.
10.5 hours

South Coast, Snowmobiling & Ice Cave from Reykjavík

Explore the splendour of Iceland's South Coast on a tour that takes you to the island's newest natural ice cave and its most iconic waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss.

€306
Save 10%
From €275/person
Hikers walking on the Sólheimajökull glacier in the south coast of Iceland.
10.5 hours

South Coast & Glacier Hiking

Enjoy a guided glacier walk, exploring the beautiful, icy wonderland of Iceland's Sólheimajökull Glacier. Enjoy the fresh air, interesting shapes and hues of the ice and marvel at the vast and remote slice of south Iceland. Get up close and personal with one of the country's most famous glaciers! Expect a 2-hour drive from Reykjavík, a 1.5-hour glacier hike, and some sightseeing along the south coast and back to Reykjavík.

€166
Save 10%
From €150/person
A woman looking at the calm icebergs floating on the glacial lagoon
13.5 hours

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon & Diamond Beach

With its enormous white and blue icebergs breaking off from Vatnajökull glacier, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a natural wonder of Iceland, a sight you absolutely cannot miss. The nearby Diamond Beach has a stunning display of chunks of ice glistening on stark black sands. This tour features some of southeast Iceland's most spectacular and iconic landscapes!

€160
Save 15%
From €136/person

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