What happens when you take a free spirited American, give her a car, and set her loose in Iceland? She’ll take her rental car and drive pretty much anywhere. One place I wanted to drive to was to the abandoned wreck of a United States Navy airplane from the 1970’s called The Dakota. With no idea what it would look like or if I would be able to find it, I packed my camera and GPS and set out to the south of Iceland near the infamous Eyjafjallajokull volcano, Skogafoss waterfall, and the town of Vik. Sounds simple, right?
After a two hour drive from Reykjavik, I arrived near, but not exactly where I needed to be. My frustration increased steadily, but I wasn’t ready to give up quite so easily. While I knew it was nearby, all I saw was beautiful green countryside and mountains, but no sandy beaches. I actually read that there was a wooden fence with an opening that would mark the entrance. Just as I was about to give up, there it was — the opening. In the pictures above you can see the that from the road you would have no idea that the Sólheimasandur was anywhere close by, but once you see the gate, then the little bridge, you’re on your way.
Only later after I returned home while I was looking online did I locate two different GPS coordinates that you can use to locate the plane more easily. Hopefully, that will help others find it a little easier than I did!
- 63 27.546-19 21.887
Once through the gate and over the little bridge, you’ll now find yourself on a gravel road that cuts through a field. It’s at this point that you’ll start to think you’re lost and you’re in some horror movie where you’re about to be killed. Ok, maybe that’s what I was thinking, but regardless, keep driving. Although it seems like the exact opposite of what you should do, you really are going in the right direction. You’ll pass some lovely Icelandic sheep grazing perhaps but then the road suddenly ends.
Stay the course for only a couple of miles and along the way the farm land and sheep disappear and turn into more of a black sandy beach. That’s when you know for sure that you’re going in the right direction. Look for the tire tracks indicating others have been there before you and perhaps you can follow those tracks as your guide, but any way you look at it, you’ll feel like you’re on another planet and you’re the last person alive.
The wind was incredibly still, it was eerily quiet, and it was if color was removed entirely from the landscape, but for shades of gray and black. Finally, I was able to spot the wreckage in the distance and didn’t feel completely hopeless. While you’re there, take in the views from the beach as they are pretty amazing.
TSG Tip: In the winter and in bad weather you’ll definitely want a 4×4 vehicle, but if you’re daring enough in any other weather condition, you can make it in a regular vehicle. But be warned that you probably should consider yourself a good driver who is strong enough to push your car out should it get stuck as black sand can be unforgiving.
What exactly is this plane wreckage? From what I was able to research, the plane is a Douglas R4D (Dakota DC-3 C117), which is a United States Navy airplane. On November 24, 1973, the plane was forced to land after running out of fuel. Unfortunately, what they didn’t know at the time was that they did have fuel onboard, but they erroneously switched to the wrong fuel tank. Luckily, the crew survived the crash, but the subsequent helicopter recovery in bad weather resulted in several fatalities. The plane was left behind and still stands on Sólheimasandur beach in Southern Iceland.
I drove up near the wreckage, got out, and simply walked up to and inside the plane. There’s no policies or procedures to follow — you’re on your own out here so use your best judgement when navigating around this huge hunk of metal. It’s a somewhat surreal place to visit as an American plane on a beach in Iceland seems out of place, but that’s probably the appeal. That and being able to walk inside an old Navy plane doesn’t hurt, too.
All these years later, a great portion of the plane survives for those who want to view it. Anywhere else, the plane would have been sold off for parts and what remained would have been covered with graffiti. Only in Iceland could you view it as is and not get charged by the land owner for admittance! It was raining while I was there, but I only saw one or two other vehicles the entire time. It’s not a huge tourist trap, most likely because people either don’t know about it or can’t find it. Either way, it was not like anything else I have seen or done before. It was definitely worth the drive and any anxiety I might have had that I would meet an untimely death along the way!