Iceland plane

Arash Malek on top of a downed US Navy plane in Iceland. (Photo courtesy of Arash Malek)

Culture + Style

The Plane Crash That’s on Every Photographer’s Bucket List

We’re pretty sure a US Navy pilot didn’t know his DC-3 would become a playground for photographers when he crash landed in Iceland in 1973.

But that’s exactly what his downed plane on the black sandy beaches of Iceland‘s Sólheimasandur has become many years later.

Arash Malek is one of those photographers, and we caught up with him after coming across an awesome shot of his on Instagram, where he’s shown off recent trips to Australia, Dubai and Hong Kong. Oh, he’s got a pretty cool dog, too.

In the shot, seen above and below, Malek is seen doing what many explorers do — cutting a towering presence against Iceland’s gloomy sky as they stand on top of the carcass of the gray plane. Justin Bieber’s done it, too.

What got Malek there is just as interesting.

While his job at Protek Cargo has him traveling around the world selling temperature-sensitive shipping solutions to clients, Malek wanted to take a more personal trip with his father.

Iceland was originally going to be a solo trip, and then one of my mentors suggested taking my dad. It ended up being the greatest decision ever.

Arash Malek

“Iceland was originally going to be a solo trip, and then one of my mentors suggested taking my dad,” Malek tells Marriott TRAVELER. “So I did. I got him a ticket and told him we could go together. It ended up being the greatest decision ever. We’d never done something like that before.”

That trip wound up being one epic father-son road trip.

“We were there for 14 days,” Malek says. “It was a while, and that’s the thing — something like that can really go either way,” Malek began. “It ended up being an amazing experience. We drove clockwise around the whole island in a van, and I learned so many stories about my dad that I didn’t know before. I guess I never really had that kind of time to sit and listen.”

Can you tell us a little bit about where the photo was taken?

It’s on the south coast of Iceland on the black sand beach of Sólheimasandur. If you’re driving around the Island clockwise the crash site is shortly after you pass the town of Vik. There’s a tiny sign and you just walk over this little cow gate. It’s pretty easy to spot now because there are just crowds of people walking there throughout all times of the day.

How were you able to get a shot without anyone else in the photo?

I was extremely patient and just waited for there to be a brief window of no people. Another thing I like to do is to throw on an ND filter and shoot long exposure. I’ll stand incredibly still and that helps to ghost out some of the moving people if there end up being any in the shot.

While I was there I met two other people from California. I was shooting with my drone at the time, and these other two photographers had made the trip out there only to realize that their drone’s batteries weren’t charged. I gave them one of my spare batteries to fly and shoot with. When they finished up I asked if they could do me a favor, too.

I had one of them get up on the plane where I planned to stand so that I could set the focus. Then I just swapped out with him and had him click the shutter when I was in position. It worked out pretty well. You can definitely meet some awesome people in situations like that.

What does the image represent about the event or place?

So the plane is a US Navy plane that crashed onto the beach in November of 1973, because it ran out of gas. To me the fact that nobody died and the fact that they crash landed and still had to survive in the conditions is just a real symbol of human tenacity.

So while I was there, the whole time, I couldn’t help but to visualize that experience and what I would have done if I were in that situation. Walking on top of the plane, walking through the plane … it was just a really eerie experience.

Any word of advice for readers looking to replicate that shot?

It’s a 2.5 mile hike one way, so I’d definitely recommend taking some super comfortable walking or hiking shoes. If you’re a lone and want to get a similar shot you’ll have to bring along a tripod as well.

How did you discover this place?

It actually wasn’t through Instagram. It was through one of the first editions of Uncrate Quarterly Magazine. The reason I wanted to go to Iceland was because of the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” It’s such a visually beautiful movie. When I first saw it I was like, “I don’t know where this is … but I want to go there.” After some research I found out that the majority of it was shot in Iceland, and I just had to go.

The reason I wanted to go to Iceland was because of the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s such a visually beautiful movie.

Arash Malek

Had you gone on any road trips like that before?

No, never!

We usually stay in hotels … What wouldn’t we expect from van life?

The weirdest part for us was knowing where it was cool to just park a car and rest. The first couple of nights felt so vulnerable. Because you’re just out there … in a car. It’s just weird. I’d never even slept in an RV before let alone in a modified van. So I would say it definitely took some getting used to. But by day number three and four we were pros at it.

What did you do for food?

Another great thing about my dad coming along was that he didn’t have any gear with him. So he literally brought a suitcase full of food. My brother’s girlfriend had made us some burritos for the trip so we just froze those and took them with us. We had a little gas fire stove, and my dad would just warm up these burritos!

We also had instant noodles and stuff like that, and then whenever we’d pass through a new town we’d head to the fish market and pick up some fresh fish.

Where do you get your photo inspiration?

Art of Visuals on Instagram and definitely the AOV app. It’s a highly curated feed of some of the best content out there.

Where do you live now?

I was born in Iran but my parents moved to Berkeley, California, when I was just under two years old. I’ve been around Berkeley and the Bay Area ever since.

Any recommendations for people traveling to San Francisco?

Definitely hit Rodeo Beach. It’s a hidden gem, and it’s never that packed. Before going to Iceland that was one of my favorite spots.

Marin Headlands is also a must to get a good shot of the Golden Gate.

Any travel plans in the future?

The next trip will be to New Zealand for work!

Where can people find out more about you?

People can find me over at, but the best place for the more recent stuff is on Instagram @minimal_duck.

For Snap ChatMarriott TRAVELER is connecting with photographers around the world to capture the backstories behind some of the best images posted on Instagram.