Of Wrecked Planes and Missing Tails..

On November 24th 1973, a US Naval DC-3 Dakota crash landed on the black sands at Sólheimasandur in the south of Iceland.  The plane apparently ran out of fuel although it was later discovered that the pilot simply switched over to the wrong fuel tank.  How true that is I don’t know.  What is a fact is that the plane lies on the beach to this day.  Ravaged by arctic gales and the ferocity of the Icelandic winters the plane, forty years on, is not what it once was.  It’s clear that much of the plane has been dismantled and taken away, no doubt recycled and utilised elsewhere.  The Icelanders are a very resourceful lot and will recycle anything useful.

I read in an article on the wreck in the Daily Mail that stated the tail mysteriously disappeared amid rumours it was stolen by a local farmer to sell it on.  I’ll come back to that story in a bit.

It’s an interesting place to visit.  The silver fuselage against the black sand creates a dramatic contrast and on a very wild, rainy and stormy morning, such as it was when I visited, dark brooding skies add to the drama of this apocalyptic scene.  While I was photographing the wreck, I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye.  Way in the distance on the horizon I saw an arctic fox, curious but ultra shy, I turned my camera in that direction and managed to press the shutter but all I got was a blurry outline.  He was gone before I could properly compose and focus of course.

The site is popular with photographers naturally.  Its location, not a terribly well-kept secret, draws many visitors.  I’m sure I’ll return, especially if the northern lights should put in an appearance when I’m passing.  I think the wreck will make for some effective foreground interest.  This isn’t the only wrecked Dakota in Iceland however. On my recent visit to Höfn, my good friend Runólfur Hauksson, took me to the site of the other wreck.

This particular DC-3 crash landed shortly after take off from Höfn airfield and lost its tail in the process.  It was similarly abandoned by the US Navy, where it landed.  The owner of the land where the plane crashed decided he wanted a more complete wreck than the one he had on his hands.  In negotiation with the owner of the land at Sólheimasandur, he bought the tail from the wreck on the sand, dismantled it and carried it back to east Iceland on a trailer where it sits to this day.  No stealing involved.  After all, if the US Navy didn’t want the planes, it seems entirely appropriate that title should pass to the owners of the land, to do with what they will.  I’ll be keeping the location of this other wreck under my hat I think.. :-) Click on any of the images below for a clearer, sharper view.

Crashed Dakota DC-3, Sólheimasandur 35mm f/2.8 1/250 sec. ISO-100

SpacerCrashed Dakota DC-3, Sólheimasandur 35mm f/2.8 1/250 sec. ISO-100

SpacerCrashed Dakota DC-3, Sólheimasandur 35mm f.2.8 1/250 sec. ISO-100

SpacerCrashed Dakota DC-3, Sólheimasandur35mm f/3.2 1/250 sec. ISO-100

SpacerAnd the other Dakota, complete with tail..
Crashed Dakota DC-3SpacerAdrian Theze Photo logo_2Spacer

57 responses

  1. smackedpentax

    Fantastic photos and a great story. There are a lot of crashed aircraft on the moors and hills near me in Yorkshire but most are not much more than a few scraps of twisted metal. We certainly have nothing like this…

    May 31, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    • Thank you! These planes certainly make great subjects to photograph! :-)

      May 31, 2015 at 4:28 pm

  2. Amazing! Fantastic images, and what a story. That plane could be turned into a camper. And who among us remains the same, 40 years on.

    May 31, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    • Thank you Mike! I’m cetainly not, that’s for sure. I think the owner of the second plane had plans to turn the plane into a very unique coffee shop but that didn’t really work out. It’s a bit off the beaten track.

      May 31, 2015 at 4:31 pm

      • A business without customers is never a good thing. It seems there is enough of it left to clean out the inside and put in whatever you want. Sink, bed, computer space.
        Those are some crisp and dramatic images. You sure do some great work Adrian.

        May 31, 2015 at 4:55 pm

      • Thank you very much Mike. I really appreciate that. :-)

        May 31, 2015 at 5:28 pm

  3. Really nice airplane pix.

    May 31, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    • Thank you Spencer!

      May 31, 2015 at 4:53 pm

  4. Sue

    Wow, fantastic subjects and brilliant images as ever!

    May 31, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    • Thank you Sue, that’s very kind! :-)

      May 31, 2015 at 5:28 pm

  5. A tail well told, if not photographed.

    Very nice processing, as well.

    May 31, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    • Thanks Emilio! Appreciate your pun as well as your comment!

      May 31, 2015 at 5:29 pm

  6. Looks like the perfect dreary sort of day for this sort of shot. Well done, as usual!

    May 31, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    • Thank you Gunta! It was the only day we had like this and it suited my subject perfectly! :-)

      May 31, 2015 at 5:48 pm

      • Good timing! Or beloved of the weather gods.

        May 31, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      • :-)

        May 31, 2015 at 6:03 pm

  7. One of my favourite aircraft. Even in this condition they still look amazing. The contrast in the images is superb. I like Mike’s idea of turning the aircraft into a camper.

    May 31, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    • Thank you Simon. The Dakota was a great little aircraft. Definitely something about them. I like Mike’s idea too Simon. I’m not sure what the owners plans are. It certainly deserves to be preserved.

      May 31, 2015 at 6:51 pm

  8. Great photo series. And definitely OUTSTANDING processing. :-)

    May 31, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    • Thank you very much Frank!

      May 31, 2015 at 6:51 pm

  9. I think with the northern lights as a background, it will be terrific. The pictures are very sharp, dramatic and gorgeous !! I love them :-)

    May 31, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    • Thanks Gin. It’ll be one of those occasions where luck will play a big part but it would be nice to get the image.

      May 31, 2015 at 6:52 pm

      • Yes, luck is a key factor when it comes to northern lights ;-)

        May 31, 2015 at 6:54 pm

  10. Great subjects, great images, and great drama in the images – and the next but last photo looks really 3D.

    May 31, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    • Thank you David! Much appreciated!

      May 31, 2015 at 7:31 pm

  11. Such dramatic images, Adrian. That gloomy, lowering sky was the perfect backdrop. :)

    May 31, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    • Thank you Sylvia! Thankfully our moods didn’t match the conditions and the day brightened considerably by mid morning! I was glad to capture the images when I did though. As you say, a perfect backdrop! :-)

      May 31, 2015 at 8:08 pm

  12. I like the clouds, it makes the picture look like the plane crash just happened.

    May 31, 2015 at 9:34 pm

    • Thank you! :-)

      May 31, 2015 at 9:42 pm

  13. Gorgeous.!Fantastic photoshoot of the crasted plane.

    May 31, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    • Thanks ever so much Lou! :-)

      June 1, 2015 at 5:14 pm

  14. These really are ravaged wrecks – the photos really pick up the details.

    May 31, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    • They are indeed Carol.. Thanks for your comment! :-)

      June 1, 2015 at 5:14 pm

  15. Fantastic photos!!! The brooding clouds are perfect! :)

    May 31, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    • Thank you very much Norma! The weather was certainly working in my favour I think.

      June 1, 2015 at 5:14 pm

  16. Ghosts with empty staring eye sockets! The glint of whitish metal on black sand against a stormy sky makes a great combination, Adrian.

    June 1, 2015 at 7:46 am

    • Thanks Andy! This was a sad and sorry sight to me, a bit of an aircraft nut, and I hoped to reflect that through the photographs I took, the angles taken, and the processing of course.

      June 1, 2015 at 5:12 pm

  17. Great subject again! I particularly like your second image; the apocalyptic sky and wreck work really well together.

    June 1, 2015 at 9:21 am

    • Thanks Noeline. A sight no photographer could pass up I think. The weather was working in my favour given the mood I hoped to convey. These wrecks were a sad sigh to me as a lover of all things aviation. :-)

      June 1, 2015 at 5:13 pm

  18. Interesting photographs… but a little sad for me.

    June 1, 2015 at 9:23 am

    • Thank you Shimon. I love aeroplanes and to see these Dakotas, such a great plane, in this state saddens me also. I hoped to reflect my feelings through the photographs I took and my processing of them.

      June 1, 2015 at 5:10 pm

  19. Fascinating story Adrian and wonderful images.

    June 1, 2015 at 11:58 am

    • Thank you Edith! :-)

      June 1, 2015 at 5:10 pm

  20. The last image, for me, goes beyond the others because the wreck takes on an almost animal -like quality, huddled and fearful and miserable somehow but also snug in its space.
    You always do a professional job, with words and of course, images.

    June 1, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    • Thank you so much Lynn. You always leave such lovely comments. They’re very much appreciated! :-)

      June 1, 2015 at 5:08 pm

  21. great and looks like a scene from a movie :)

    June 2, 2015 at 6:07 am

    • Thank you very much Indeed Joshi!

      June 2, 2015 at 7:54 am

  22. A fascinating series and perfect images! Great!

    June 2, 2015 at 7:33 am

    • Thank you very much! :-)

      June 2, 2015 at 7:54 am

  23. Amazing story. And a great images. I love the contrast between the metal gloss and shinny airplanes against the dramatic Icelandic landscape.

    June 3, 2015 at 8:06 am

    • Thank you Otto! These planes make for some interesting subjects that’s for sure! :-)

      June 3, 2015 at 8:33 am

  24. I *love* these photos!! Super captures and post processing, Adrian!

    June 7, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    • Thank you Camilla! The plane really was a fun subject to photograph.

      June 7, 2015 at 6:43 pm

  25. Compelling shots, Adrian! Each and every one.

    June 14, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    • Thank you Elena! :-)

      June 15, 2015 at 10:12 am

  26. These are amazing. Great mood and outstanding clarity.

    October 13, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    • Thank you Karen! :-)

      October 20, 2015 at 5:49 pm