Visiting the DC-3 on Iceland’s Solheimasandur black sand beach


On Iceland’s south coast, a couple hours from Reykjavik, sits a crashed US Navy DC-3 on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach. It is an AvGeek mecca and a pretty strong tourist destination for most everyone else. We spent an hour or so exploring last summer and I captured this timelapse of the scene. Including the woman riding a skateboard on top of the fuselage.

The plane went down in November 1973. Exact details are unclear but the generally accepted story is that it ran out of fuel (or the pilot switched to the wrong fuel tank) and managed to make it on to the beach at Sólheimasandur. The US Government chose to leave the plane there (not the only DC3 abandoned in Iceland, it turns out) and over the past 40+ years it has sat on that beach, rotting away. The tail disappeared a while back, reportedly stolen and sold off by a local farmer. The rest of the fuselage sits on the black sand today, open for exploration and some incredible photo opportunities, depending on the time of day you arrive.

Of course I climbed up inside the DC3 to explore
Of course I climbed up inside the DC3 to explore

Visiting involves driving to a random, unmarked turnoff on the side of Iceland’s Highway 1 (a/k/a the “Ring Road”) and finding a parking spot amongst all the other visitors. There used to be an off road path in to the plane for drivers but the farmers who own the land got fed up with people driving outside the markers so you have to hike in a couple miles across the barren, flat black landscape to reach the plane. The trail is slightly marked (where the old road used to be) but generally speaking just following the crowds of people should work to help you find the way. You won’t see the plane until you’re nearly on top of it as it sits in a slight depression along the beach.

The scenery surrounding the crashed DC-3 is hard to beat, mostly because that's what Iceland is like everywhere
The scenery surrounding the crashed DC-3 is hard to beat, mostly because that’s what Iceland is like everywhere
Part of the smallish crowd we saw out exploring the crashed DC-3 on Iceland's south coast
Part of the smallish crowd we saw out exploring the crashed DC-3 on Iceland’s south coast

And, yes, there are crowds. Iceland’s tourism draw is huge and sites like this one, previously one sought out by the truly dedicated, are now frequented by throngs of visitors daily in the summer season. It is far enough out from Reykjavik that not many people would consider it a day-trip option from there, lightening the loads a bit, but it was still well visited one late afternoon on a random summer day when we visited. And in the summer the sun doesn’t really set so catching the sunset shot or night scene isn’t much of an option, though I’m sure that’s cool if you go when the sky does get dark.

One of the visitors to the crashed DC3 taking a break
One of the visitors to the crashed DC3 taking a break
Inside the crashed DC-3 on Iceland's south coast
Inside the crashed DC-3 on Iceland’s south coast

Thanks to having our own car/camper van we did a lot of the big sites at off hours, lowering the crowd factor significantly. If you can make that work on your trip it is highly recommended, even if you don’t sleep in the van for a week like we did.

Another shot of the downed DC3 and the mountains behind it
Another shot of the downed DC3 and the mountains behind it

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

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