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One Photo: One Story; Beautiful Wreckage

In 1973, a pilot in a US Navy DC plane throws the fuel tank switch to feed the humming engines. To his dismay the engine sputters. He frantically toggles the switch back and forth to re-fire his engines and control the aircraft.

His fuel is gone. The plane plummets from the sky and crashes on a vast black sand beach on the southern coast of Iceland, near the hamlet of Solheimasandur. The men survive.

They crawl from the wreckage, happy to be alive. The waves crash along the nearby shore, wind knifes through their tattered flight suits. Rain pelts their faces, it’s freezing cold even in summer. They climb onto the wings to await rescue.

They try to calculate where they are on the foggy coastline. Vision is poor. Conditions unbearable.

This is not a photo of those men.

The story is from 1973 and true. The photo is from 2004. I am on the left and some radio colleagues on the right. We look as though we could have been in that scene but we are exploring Iceland.

June 21, 2004. The beginning of summer, we are freezing.

We were there to broadcast from Reykjavik during a 24-hour golf tournament on a day the sun doesn’t set. We had some down time.

We spent one afternoon four wheeling through miles of fields, farms, woods, and beaches. It was some of the most beautiful country in the world. Wild, undisturbed, beautiful southern Iceland, the guides spoke Icelandic and some broken English. If they told us where we were going, I wouldn’t have understood.

We rode up the black sand beach at Solheimasandur and the skeleton of the wreckage appeared through the fog. My imagination was running wild. The plane was full of holes. I pictured it evading flack from enemy fire and plowing onto the beach during World War II. I was amazed it was still there. I couldn’t recall any history of WWII action near Iceland during the war.

It was one of those moments when what you are seeing ignites an imaginary tale of epic proportions.

We crawled around the wreckage that we learned was from 1973. The men survived. There was plenty of fuel. The switch malfunctioned.

The fuselage remains and is visited by many to this very day.

I love the photos and they still spark my imagination.

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