One of the popular attractions in Iceland (amongst many!) is the wreck of a Super DC-3 plane that lies on a remote black sandy beach-like plain. It’s particularly photogenic, and is also somewhat unique in the country. As such, there are many people (us included!), who want to visit the site of the plane crash when in Iceland.
Well, in this post, we’re going to give you the latest information to help you visit the site of the plane wreck in Iceland. It’s not hard to find, but does require a bit of effort to get to. We’ll answer all your questions, from getting to the plane, through to tips for getting photos of the plane, where to park, and more. Let’s get going!
What is the Iceland Plane Crash?
The plane wreck in Iceland is all that remains of a US Navy Douglas Super DC-3 which crash landed here in 1973, whilst operating a supply mission between Hofn Hornafjördur Airport and Stokksnes, Iceland. The plane crashed onto the black sandy plain of Sólheimasandur, and the crew, led by the pilot Captain James Wicke, were all able to safely escape.
Following the crash and rescue of the inhabitants, the US Navy salvaged all they could of the parts of the plane and then essentially abandoned it where it was. The tail section was later removed by an Icelander, and over the years the plane has been stripped of pretty much everything that could be used, so all that remains is the fuselage and engine mounts.
For aviation enthusiasts amongst you, the plane in question is a US Navy Douglas Super DC-3 (the military version of the civilian DC-3, also known as a C117D). The plane in question had designation Douglas R4D-8 17171.
The reason for the crash, as described on the aviation safety network, was that bad weather led to ice freezing the engines and knocking them out, resulting in the emergency landing. Other reports on the internet suggest that the reason for the crash is either unknown, or related to pilot error during fuel tank switching, however these reports do not appear to be substantiated by the crash report.
Everyone survived the crash, but since the plane didn’t fare so well, and has been sitting alone in the black sand since it met its fate. Well, alone apart from all the people coming to visit and get a picture of course!
The plane crash became popular after being featured in a number of music videos and has been visited by various celebrities.
In particular, the documentary Heima by Sigur Rós features the plane, which was one of the earlier references to it in popular culture.
Perhaps most famously though, Justin Bieber used the crashed plane in his 2015 music video for the song “I’ll Show You”, in which he is seen skateboarding on the roof, and this was the year that the planes popularity really soared.
It’s also a very popular location for photographers in Iceland, given its unique look. All of these factors have combined to make this one of the “must-see” stops when visiting Iceland, especially if you’re a keen photographer like me!
Where is the Iceland Plane Crash?
The plane crash is on the black sand beach of Sólheimasandur, which is about four miles south of the Iceland ring road along the south coast of Iceland between Skógar and Dyrhólaey. In terms of nearby attractions, the closest major attraction is Skogafoss waterfall, which is around 6 miles to the east, or a ten minute drive away.
The closest towns are Vik to the west, 15 miles or a twenty minute drive. To the east, the closest large town is Hvolsvöllur, which is about a 40 minute drive away, or 35 miles. The exact GPS co-ordinates of the plane crash are 63°27’32.7″N 19°21’53.3″W.
Is the Iceland Plane Wreck Closed?
Access to the crashed plane is on privately owned land, and in 2016 there was talk that access to visitors would be closed off as the landowners were tired of people crossing the land and parking badly.
However, rather than entirely restricting access, the decision was instead made to just restrict vehicle access to the crash site and to clearly denote that camping or overnighting here is illegal.
As of the time of writing you are still welcome to visit the plane yourself, you can just no longer drive all the way to the crash site, or stay overnight here.
Instead, follow the instructions below for parking, plane access and where to stay in the area. This is private property so please be a respectful visitor – this will ensure that future visitors will continue to be allowed to access this awesome location.
Where to Park for the Iceland Plane Crash?
A large parking lot has been created just by the side of Route 1, the ring road around Iceland. This is approximately two miles away from the crashed plane (see the next section for information on how to actually get to the plane). This is the only parking available for visitors.
In past years, you used to be able to drive closer to the plane, or you had to park on the side of the road, which is both illegal and dangerous. Now the parking lot is able to accommodate many visitors, plus there is a large information panel to help you plan your visit.
There is no sign from the road to indicate what the large parking lot is for, so we highly recommend that you put the GPS co-ordinates into your GPS. It is quite obvious from the road as you drive from Skogafoss towards Vik in an easterly direction; however, if you are travelling quickly you might go past it without realising, and then it might take you a little while to find a suitable location to turn around!
The parking lot has GPS co-ordinates of 63°29’28.4″N 19°21’48.2″W and it can be found on Google Maps here.
Please don’t park anywhere else to access the plane – this is the best place to start your journey. In a section below I have added a map to show you the route to the plane and the parking location, as well as nearby features.
How to get to the Crashed Plane?
For a long time, all you needed was a suitable four wheel drive vehicle, and you could drive all the way up to the plane. Due to the sheer number of visitors though, plus the number of people getting into difficulty trying to drive to the plane, the land owners restricted access, so now you need to park in the parking lot by Route 1, and make your way to the plane by foot.
Alternatively, depending on the time of year and day you visit, there are also fat tyre bikes available to rent, which will get you there a lot quicker. These are available for rent in the parking lot where you park, and operate from a trailer. As far as we know, these are not available year round, instead you will likely find them here in the summer months when there are more people making the trek out to the plane crash.
The walk to the plane is across two miles of flat and fairly featureless desert, and will take you 40 minutes to 1 hour each way, depending on how fast you go on the conditions at the time you visit.
I have to admit, this is a fairly dull walk, and the distances are hard to judge given how featureless the landscape is, meaning you can feel like you are walking forever and never quite getting to your destination!
Still, the path is very easy to follow and the trail is marked out with yellow reflective sticks, so unless the weather is very bad, you shouldn’t lose your way. Still, you should definitely take a phone or other device so you can find your way back to the car park, or summon assistance, should something happen on the route. In Iceland, the emergency number is 112.
The route is mostly a straight line, with a slight curve to the left at the end to descend a little way to the plane. The last few hundred meters are unmarked, but the plane is clearly visible by this point in all but the worst weather (if the weather is this bad we would advise against tackling the journey!).
For reference, the GPS co-ordinates of the crashed plane are 63°27’32.7″N 19°21’53.3″W, and the parking lot where you start the walk is at 63°29’28.4″N 19°21’48.2″W.
Map of Where to Park and Walking Route for Iceland Plane Wreck
To explain things more clearly, I have created a couple of maps. One shows the location of the plane wreck and parking lot relative to Skogafoss, which is the closest nearby attraction. The second is a more detailed map with the parking lot and walking route illustrated.
Note that the walking route and the cycle trail are the same trail.
What Time of Year Can you Visit the Plane?
You can visit the plane at any time of year as access is open year round. However, you definitely need to consider the weather conditions and your preparation before setting out. The best, and safest times of year to visit, are the warmer months, from around May through to September. At this time of year you get many more hours of daylight, and the weather is likely to be more favourable.
It is possible to visit the plane in winter, but you need to be prepared for more extreme weather conditions (see our packing list for Iceland in winter for some suggestions). This is a very exposed part of Iceland, and freezing winds regularly blow across the landscape. These can carry sand, snow and ice. In addition, the visibility can be seriously reduced, and the weather can change very quickly.
Whilst four miles across flat terrain might not seem too difficult, in a blizzard this terrain can be very difficult to navigate, and it would be very easy to lose your bearings. You will definitely want to be fully prepared in terms of winter clothing, and to carry either a GPS device or a compass – in a worst case scenario you can just head north until you find Route 1 again.
I’m not trying to put you off visiting the plane in winter, it’s just important that you are aware of the risks during potential bad weather and plan accordingly. At least one visitor has died trying to reach the plane wreck due to exposure, in October 2017.
If you do choose to visit in these months, and are properly prepared, you will be rewarded by fewer other visitors, and even the potential for capturing shots of the plane with the Northern Lights overhead, which can add something really special to your photos!
If you are nervous about visiting in winter on your own, we suggest taking a tour instead, where a professional guide will ensure your safety.
Tips and Gear for Photographing the Iceland Plane Crash
The unique look of the abandoned plane wreck against the black sand is what made this location so popular for photographers and video makers, with everyone from Justin Bieber to Sigur Ros using this as a location.
Unfortunately, this popularity has given rise to the biggest challenge facing photographers – all the visitors! The draw of the location is to shoot this seemingly desolate landscape with the unusual feature of a crashed plane, a look that is somewhat hard to achieve when it is surrounded by people (and drones!).
There are a few options you have though for getting that “lonely” shot you might be after. First, patience. Most people arrive at the plane, take a few photos, and then head back on the long walk across the sand. Very few people stay more than a few minutes, as to be honest, other than take a few photos, there isn’t much else to do.
Your second option is to come at an unusual time – either very early in the morning, or very late at night. Be aware though that in the summer months especially, people will be wandering out to the plane very late – we left at 9.30pm at night, and people were still walking out to the plane.
Another option is to use some strong neutral density filters and a tripod, to allow you to do long exposure photography. This will generally assist in removing the folks in the shot, who you can then digitally crop them out later. Or, using a tripod you can take the same shot multiple times, and then use Photoshop to merge the layers and also remove the people that way. A tripod is also handy, if you visit on your own, to get a photo of you with the plane.
Otherwise, the photography is up to you. We didn’t have the best weather when we walked out to the plane, but it’s a location that works well in all sorts of weathers. It’s particularly impressive with the northern lights overhead, however this will require you to be very prepared as you’ll have to visit in the colder months, and there is no shelter out here.
Where to Stay Near the Crashed Plane
There’s no on site accommodation at the crashed plane, and wild camping here is no longer allowed as of 2014 (when the law on camping in Iceland changed). So the nearest options should you want to stay near the plane (a good idea if you want to visit it early or late) are as follows:
- Sólheimahjáleiga Guesthouse. This is the closest accommodation to the plane wreck, only three minutes drive from the parking area.
- Guesthouse Vellir. Slightly further away at seven minutes, this is still by no means a long way from the parking area .
- Hótel Skógafoss. This is the closest option west along Route 1, and is also very handy for both Skogafoss and Kvernufoss waterfalls.
- The Barn – a well reviewed and popular hostel in Vik, offering both dormitory accommodation and private rooms.
- The nearest campsites are in Skogar, at the Skógar Campsite, or in Vik, at Vik Camping.
There are many more options relatively nearby, we’d suggest checking out listings in the towns of Vik (the largest nearby town, around 20 minutes drive east) or Skogar, which is about ten minutes drive west and also has a few options.
Tours that Visit the Crashed Plane in Iceland
If you’re not driving yourself in Iceland, then you will need to take a tour as we’re not aware of any other option for visiting the plane – there’s no bus stop nearby.
This full day tour for example includes the plane wreck (and cycle hire), as well as a number of other attractions in Iceland that you will likely want to visit, as well as a pick up from Reykjavik. It also runs in the winter, a time at which a guided tour is definitely a safer option. This budget focused tour is another good option.
Further Reading for Visiting Iceland
We’ve written a number of pieces of content on Iceland to help you plan your trip to this beautiful country, which we think you will find useful – plus we have more on the way, so do check back often. There are also a number of external resources that travellers to Iceland should find useful.
- Our detailed guide to planning your Iceland trip, which has everything you could need to help you plan an awesome adventure in Iceland, from budget tips to practical information and more. A must read and a good place to start your trip planning!
- If you’re heading to Iceland in winter and planning on driving yourself, check out our detailed guide to driving in Iceland in winter to help prepare yourself
- We’ve created a list of some of our favourite photography locations in Iceland from our travels there to give you some ideas of where to aim to get the best photos
- We have a guide to the best waterfalls in Iceland, to help you choose from the thousands that are out there!
- We have itineraries for self-drive trips in Iceland, including a seven day Iceland itinerary, a guide to spending 5 days in Iceland, a guide for 3 days in Iceland, and an Iceland ring road itinerary.
- If you’re visiting Iceland in Winter, check out our guide to the best winter activities in Iceland and my tips for cold weather photography
- We have a detailed packing guide to help you decide what to pack for Iceland in winter
- We’ve also got a guide to the best day trips from Reykjavik should you wish to base yourself in the capital and do trips like the visit to the crashed plane from there
- On a budget? Here’s a guide to budgeting for Iceland to help you make the most of your trip
- We travelled with Iceland Travel – check out their website for lots of different tour options and prices.
- For car rental in Iceland, this website has the largest list of car rental options in Iceland
- The weather in Iceland can be fickle – the best website for real-time cloud cover is this one from the Icelandic Met Office.
- Whilst Iceland is a safe country to travel in when it comes to things like crime, the country itself is home to extreme conditions and all sorts of seismic activity. So to stay safe as you go, check out the safetravel Iceland page
And that sums up our guide to finding the crashed plane in Iceland. As always, if you have any feedback or thoughts on this post, do let us know in the comments below!
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