63.4909° N, 19.3634° W
The plane wreck on Sólheimasandur glacial out-wash plain in South Iceland has been featured in countless photos, magazines, travel blogs, Bollywood movies, TV commercials and music videos. This is perhaps most famously in a 2007 Sigur Rós documentary and more recently in Justin Bieber’s music video ,,I’ll show you”. The scenery and otherworldly composition of black sand and weathered gray hulk of metal draw thousands of visitors every year.
According to the official US records the crash took place on November 24, 1973, but that is incorrect. The correct time and date is the afternoon of November 21, 11973, as reported by the local media and eyewitness accounts. The causes of the crash are somewhat unclear as accounts differ as to whether it was due to human error, a mechanical failure, the plane running out of fuel, a storm or a combination of all these factors. The most popular theory of what caused the crash is that the plane crashed after running out of fuel during a storm, after the pilot accidentally switched to the wrong fuel tank.
The plane was returning to Keflavík from the town Höfn in Hornafjörður, in southeast Iceland. It had been delivering equipment for the US Radar Station on Stokksnes east of Höfn. Suddenly the plane was caught in a storm, the temperatures fell to below -10°degrees (14°F) with a thick fog, powerful winds, sleet and precipitation, causing ice to build up on the plane.
The captain, James Wicke, fought the storm and mechanical difficulties. His copilot, Gregory Fletcher, was still in training and had only flown 21 hours in a plane of this type, none of which had prepared him for this kind of an ordeal. Suddenly both of the plane’s engines gave out, causing the plane to start losing altitude. The thick fog did not make things easier for the crew. Visibility was so poor that at times the crew was unable to see the tips of the wings. Wicke sent out a distress call, handing the control over to his co-pilot, Gregory. As the plane appeared to be headed straight for a mountain, Fletcher made the decision to head south, with the goal of attempting an emergency landing on the sea. He calculated that the crew stood a better chance of surviving a crash landing in the sea than in a steep mountainside. When the plane came down through the thick clouds, Fletcher saw nothing but black sand that reminded him of the moon’s surface. He made an emergency landing on the frozen beach, managing to stop the plane only six meters (18ft) from where the waves of the ocean crashed on the black sand. All five crew members survived the crash uninjured, but the plane was badly damaged.
The crew got out of the plane quite quickly, as they feared the plane might catch fire, as the fuel tanks had been damaged in the crash. The only things they grabbed with them were the first-aid kit and old radio, dating back to WWII. Their earlier distress call had been picked up by a Hercules transport on the route from Europe to Keflavík. The Naval base in Keflavík, as well as local ICE-SAR battalions, had been alerted and a rescue operation was already being prepared when the plane crashed. The crew only had to wait an hour before a US rescue chopper from Keflavík reached them, taking them back to the base. It was reported later that Fletcher was awarded an Air Medal Bronze Star for saving the crew with the successful emergency landing.
The US Navy decided that recovering the plane from the crash site on the barren sand near the ocean, some 3.5km (2.5miles) from the nearest road, Suðurlandsvegur was too difficult. The following year Suðurlandsvegur became part of the Ring Road, when Skeiðará river, the last of the great glacial rivers of South Iceland was finally bridged. But at the time of the crash, the plane wreck was literally in the middle of nowhere.
After the Navy had stripped the plane of everything of any value the empty chunk of metal was left on the sand where it has stood ever since. For years the empty plane was used as a storage facility by the local farmers whose land it had crashed on. It was also used as target practice by local hunters, who riddled it with bullet holes while practicing their aim.
In the past it has been popular to climb on the aircraft for photographs, however, there is now a sign from the landowner stating it is prohibited which should, of course, be respected. Parking: You can see the parking lot right by the main road. From there it’s a roughly 40-50 minute walk each way so be sure to wear good shoes. The walk is completely flat as you are walking on a beach. Alternatively, you could join organized hiking, horse riding or ATV tour that will take you to the aircraft. Drones are allowed here.