The story of the Sólheimasandur plane wreck in Iceland is quite fascinating. How did this plane end up on an isolated black sand beach and why? Keep reading to find out.
The Sólheimasandur plane wreck: What happened?
The plane is no prop. It’s a real DC-3/117 plane, originally used for cargo transport by the United States Navy. November 21st 1973 the plane was on the way from southeastern village of Höfn í Hornafirði to Keflavík Airport when the weather suddenly turned. The temperature dropped, the plane was hit with strong wind and then both engines gave out due to icing. Captain James Wicke sent out a distress call as he desperately tried to get the engines going again.
There were five people aboard the plane. The first officer, Gregory Fletcher, took over command, deciding to go south and try to land the plane in the North Atlantic Ocean. He knew the freezing water would lead to hypothermia in seconds but then again plummeting into an icy mountain would kill them instantly.
A black sand beach landing
As the plane dropped below the clouds, Fletcher saw something that “looked like the moon”. It was Sólheimasandur. Minutes later, he managed to land the plane on the frozen black sand beach about six meters from the ocean. The landing left the plane wrecked but all five crew members emerged unscathed. One of them, Howard Rowley, later remarked that it was the most “comfortable” landing he had ever experienced. The Douglas C-117 plane is located about 2.5 miles (four kilometers) away from the main road.
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The Sólheimasandur plane wreck becomes famous in Iceland
A navy helicopter rescued them about an hour later and the navy immediately removed everything that could be saved from the wreck. In fact, the local farmers had seen the plane go down and immediately jumped in their (albeit very slow) tractor to see what was going on. When they arrived, demolition was already under way. The farmers used the wreck to store driftwood for some years and allowed their friends to use it for target practice – it has a few very noticeable bullet wounds. As Iceland gained international attention as a destination, so did the plane.
The DC-3/117 plane is located about 2.5 miles (four kilometers) away from the main road. While the distance is walkable there are also special shuttles and tours that can take you there in comfort.
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