This B-17 Flying Fortress bomber touched down on the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in southern Iceland on September 16, 1944.
Remarkably, all 10 of its crew members survived the crash, but the wreckage was left behind and eventually became engulfed by the glacier.
On September 16th, the B-17G embarked on an early departure from Meeks Field (Keflavík) en route to England on a ferry flight, with a crew of 10 aboard.
Unfortunately, McCollum and his crew faced adverse weather conditions, including heavy snow and sleet, causing the aircraft to deviate from its intended course.
Amidst turbulent weather and icing, the plane ultimately collided with Mt. Eyjafjallajokull, sliding on ice before coming to rest against a snowbank.
Today, as the effects of global warming gradually strip away the icy shroud of the land, this wartime aircraft is slowing resurfacing battered and torn, yet still offering a captivating glimpse into history.
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Local residents, including the former mayor of Isafjorour, Guomundur Gunnarsson, regard the wreck as a unique tourist attraction and have rebuffed calls for its removal.
An adept hiker, Gunnarsson shared, “Ever since I learned about the wreckage, I’ve been filled with curiosity. The story is truly compelling, and when I shared it with my friends, they too became enthralled.”
They embarked on a hike in 2020 to the B-17 wreck to examine the site and capture photographs, which were subsequently shared on social media.
Finding the B-17 Wreck
“The glacier Gígjökull returned the wreck after 76 years of hiding. This weekend I managed to go in a little nerd expedition, finding the wreck. We drove to Þórsmörk and to Gígjökull. We laced up our shoes and walked up a gorge by the glacier tongue.
From there we climbed up a steep slope to the edge of the glacier, which a Slovenian employee in Húsadalur had told us would lead us to the right path. We found the wreck at an altitude of 1050 meters after a short search”, Guðmundur wrote.
Aviation enthusiasts may recall the name Eyjafjallajokull, as this glacier is situated at the same location as the volcano that erupted in 2010, unleashing a massive ash cloud that disrupted European air travel.
In 1996, the US Air Force finally disclosed the details of the 1944 crash. The US bomber had been en route to England after a refueling stop at Keflavik Airport in Iceland.
Unfortunately, adverse weather conditions in Iceland led to the bomber encountering a sudden downdraft, resulting in its crash onto the ice cap.
Wing Torn Off
Fortunately, the plane landed on soft snow, sliding along its fuselage until coming to an abrupt halt against a snow bank. During the impact, one of the plane’s wings was torn off, and the engines ignited in flames.
The complete crew emerged from the aircraft unharmed, driven by the fear of a potential explosion. They quickly vacated the plane and sought refuge behind a nearby rock, swathed in their parachutes to stave off the cold, awaiting the cessation of the fire.
Once the flames subsided, they re-entered the fuselage of the aircraft and attempted to signal their presence using emergency flares.
While residents in the neighboring towns did observe these flares, they misconstrued them as part of a military operation and refrained from taking any action.
The American servicemen found themselves disoriented and unable to transmit an SOS signal to the US Air Force.
After enduring two arduous days within the wreck, which was perilously close to becoming buried in the snow, they commenced their descent down the glacier, tethered together by a line of parachutes.
The aircraft’s navigator, Steven A. Memovich, skillfully led their journey down the crevassed glacier and the steep cliffs of Smjörgiljan.
Upon reaching lower ground, they embarked on crossing of the Markarfljót river, which eventually brought them to the town of Fljótsdalur, nestled deep within Fljótshlíð.
Six of the crew members successfully arrived in Fljótsdalur after a strenuous 13-hour trek, while the remaining four spent the night outdoors and were subsequently rescued by local residents the following day.
By the end of that month, US authorities organized two expeditions to the glacier. The first successfully reached the plane wreck, salvaging some items from it.
However, the second group had to abort their mission before reaching the crash site.
Over time, the glacier enveloped the aircraft, but now, as a result of melting induced by global warming, it is slowly reemerging from obscurity.