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The wreck of a Dakota plane, a sahort story about how a pile of scrap metal became a star

Iceland is an amazing country. You will probably read that sentence often in our articles because Iceland surprises us at every step. It is here that you can have a waterfall or even a volcano on your property. It is here that wine is produced from moss, the meat of a poisonous polar shark is eaten with potato-based vodka with the graceful name Brennivín, which literally means “fiery wine”. What else could surprise you in Iceland? The wreck of the Dakota plane, which is located on… the beach. To be precise, the black beach at the Sólheimasandur Plain. Are you curious how a pile of metal, somewhere in the wilderness, made a furor, which could be envied by many TV stars? Read its short story.

The wreck of the Dakota plane – the hero of countless photos, commercials and videos

It all started innocently when Icelandic musicians from Sigur Rós released a film in 2007 documenting their spontaneous tour of the island. Heima, because that’s the name of the album, literally means home. These outstanding artists, by showing the amazing Icelandic landscapes, unknowingly contributed to the popularization of the island. Many of their fans met Iceland at that time and loved it for its natural beauty, raw nature and magic. The wreck of the Dakota plane had its few seconds in Sigur Rós’s film. As it happens in business, those few seconds were long enough to attract attention. It was like a stone that started the whole avalanche. By the way, we recommend seeing and listening to Heima by Sigur Rós. This particular album, in our opinion, is unique because of its sound and the short interviews with the artists that complement it, which allows for a better understanding of their music and their homeland.  Iceland can be heard in every note of this album and if Iceland could sing, it would certainly do the same way as Sigur Rós. A link to the full version can be found here and a short promo below.

And then everything happened naturally. First, the photographers became interested in Dakota, which is a great model for photography – white object, surrealistically contrasting with black Sólheimasandur beach and the ocean in the background. In winter, it is illuminated by the fabulous colors of the aurora, it looks like it’s not from this world. However, the breakthrough moment was the publication of the photos by Chris Burkard in 2015. His photos spread around the world. Literally. And everyone wanted the same picture – while standing on the roof of the Dakota.

The beginning of a sad end?

The same year, Justin Biber confirmed Dakota’s fame with his music video “I’ll show you”. And he showed millions of his fans how to skateboard on a plane wreck, how to go wherever you can and how to destroy nature. And thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of young people, do the same as he does because they want to have a great photo on their Instagram or Facebook profile. It is a pity that without respect for nature and the wreck itself. It is enough to look at our photos and compare them with those from 2015. The plane was partially dismantled, destroyed and the tourists even made holes in the plane to make it easier to climb on it. Some even felt the need to paint their presence on it. In a few years, nothing will be left of Dakota, unless the owner fences it with barriers, which is highly probable because already in 2016 he fenced his area and put a gate at the entrance.

The wreck of the Dakota plane – how to get there?

Did you read on the Internet that it was a hidden attraction? That you need to know the exact coordinates in order not to get lost in the surrounding it black desert? A few years ago, yes, today the wreck of the Dakota plane is already stripped of its mystery. Just find a parking lot full of cars in the middle of nothing on Route 1 and you already know that this is the place you were looking for. We put a map below, but even at the beginning of May, when there are no such crowds, we managed to find it without any problems. And then there is a 4-kilometer long march and 4-kilometer long back march because the owner of the area has banned the entry of cars and we are not surprised at all. The road is very clearly marked with yellow posts and it is hard to get lost. It was a low-budget version because you can also take a bus, directly to the wreck, for only 2.500 ISK per person, which is about 18 EUR. You can find the timetable here. For us the choice was obvious.

Wreck of the Dakota plane in Iceland – where did it come from?

The plane belonged to the US Army, which was stationed in nearby Keflavik. Iceland does not have an army to this day. For unknown reasons (we heard several theories of the disaster) the plane had to land in an emergency on the beach on 21 November 1973. Some says that it was the fault of Captain James Wicke, who had wrongly switched fuel tanks, other ones say that the plane has run out of fuel. There s also another theory, which we believe to be the most credible, that due to the temperature change engines simply went out, and the captain had no choice, he had to tried to land on the Sólheimasandur plain. And fortunately, no one of the crew got hurt. The Americans took more valuable parts and left the wreck to the landowners. On the basis of agreements concluded between the US and Iceland, landowners were supposed to remove wrecks of airplanes on their own, which, surprisingly, were not uncommon. Einar and Eyrún, the landowners in question, were not at all eager to clean up. At first, they made a wood storage facility out of the wreckage, and then a private shooting range – hence the bullet holes in the airplane’s coating. And so the wreck was waiting for better days, which probably never came for him because fame only brought him even faster devastation.

A few words about the plain of Sólheimasandur itself

The wreck of Dakota’s plane is on the plain. You wondered, like us, how did such gigantic stretches of empty space come from around here? These are areas where the glacial floods from the nearby Mýrdalsjökull glacier happened. Under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier there is a dormant woman asleep, some people probably already guess that this is the unpredictable volcano Katla, who melts the Mýrdalsjökull glacier during her eruptions, and the waters from it form jökulhlaup, which can sow more damage than the lava from the volcano itself. They destroy everything on their way – buildings, people, animals. They make temporary changes to the environment of the entire coastline. It was the way in how the terrain here was shaped. And that’s the area where is our hero – the wreck of the Dakota plane.

What’s worth knowing before you go to the wreck of Dakota?

  • First of all, consider whether it is worthwhile to spend time on this attraction if you have a limited time during your trip. We personally think that the Dakota is currently overrated and not worth spending 3-4 hours on a trip that lasts only a few days, for example. In our opinion, there are many more attractions in the area that are much more interesting.
  • If you have already decided that you want to go, prepare yourself for an 8-kilometer walk or buy a ticket for about 18 EUR. We mentioned this earlier, but we would like to remind you that since 2016 it is forbidden to use your own cars over there. Hunting for the aurora can be a bit difficult because we have to pack everything in our backpack and wait without any shelter near a wreck.
  • Dakota is probably one of the favorite attractions of Asians, so in the season prepare yourself for a large number of people around. Our photos were taken at the turn of April and May. It was quite pleasant, quite warm for Iceland, although the snow surprised us on the way. We calmly took pictures without crowds around.
  • Right next to Dakota, there’s a black beach that tourists don’t usually reach anymore – they take pictures of the plane and come back, which is a shame because the beach is really beautiful.

Are you planning a trip to southern Iceland? You can also look here:

  • A story about a black beauty – Reynisfjara – the beach, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world.
    Read our report from Dyrrhólaey. You will find there pictures, description, and some useful tips.

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