WWII

B-17 Wreck Exposed by Melting Glacier in Iceland

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.

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Emergency Landing

Unfortunately, McCollum and his crew faced adverse weather conditions, including heavy snow and sleet, causing the aircraft to deviate from its intended course.

wheel from a B-17
Today, with global warming stripping the land of ice exposing the The B-17 Wreck. Image Credit: Guðmundur Gunnarsson

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.

B-17 wreckage
After two difficult days of life in the wreck, which almost sank in the snow, the crew walked out looking for safety. The B-17 Wreck has been ground down by the glacier Image Credit: Guðmundur Gunnarsson

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.

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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.

“many of the plane's components remain easily recognisable to the eye, and the site has begun to resemble a scrapyard”.
“many of the plane’s components remain easily recognisable to the eye, and the site has begun to resemble a scrapyard”. Image Credit: Guðmundur Gunnarsson

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.

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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.

A wheel from a B-17 that crashed in to a glacier during WW2
The B-17 Wreck is fast becoming a tourist destination. Image Credit: Guðmundur Gunnarsson

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.

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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.

Saved Themselves

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.

North view of (from left to right) Mýrdalsjökull, Fimmvörðuháls and Eyjafjallajökull on 4 April 2010, taken from an altitude of 10,000 metres (32,800 ft)
North view of (from left to right) Mýrdalsjökull, Fimmvörðuháls and Eyjafjallajökull on 4 April 2010, taken from an altitude of 10,000 metres (32,800 ft)

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.

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