Barefoot, bare-everything, Ian stood on top of the wreckage of the C-117D, his long hair lifted by fingers of wind. The photographer loved the juxtaposition of Ian’s Nordic hair against a metallic sky. Because of the coming storm, no other tourists would be climbing all over the cockpit wreckage and getting in the way. The plan was to get in, quickly do the photo shoot, and get out before the storm hit.
“You don’t mind a little running, if the need arises?” the photographer joked. “Once we’re dropped off, it’s two miles from the road. We may need to outrun the snow.”
Ian wasn’t worried. At twenty-four and in the best shape of his life, he was thrilled at the chance for a photo shoot with an accomplished and visionary artist. You couldn’t stay young forever, but you could capture the moment. And while he’d never posed nude before, he was into pushing his own envelope.
The shoot took longer than expected. Pictures from every angle with different camera lenses. When it began to snow, they took all the same shots over again.
Ian considered his most important appendage, unused to being out in the elements, especially snow.
“Anyone ever get frostbite?” he asked.
The photographer knew just what Ian was referring to. He smiled slyly. “Once,” was all he said in answer.
Ian was asked to move (which he wanted to do, to help his circulation), then to talk to himself. To think of something that made him happy. Then, sad. Then, to think of hunger and look at the camera as if he wanted to eat it.
“I am hungry, actually,” Ian said. And cold.
“Right. I think I have enough material. Get dressed. I’ll call for our ride. By the time we get to the road, it should be there.” He frowned at the burgeoning clouds and the snowflakes that had begun to fall.
“Damn.” He stared bug-eyed at his phone.
“What’s wrong?” Ian struggled into his socks.
“Can’t get a signal.”
Ian pulled out his phone. He couldn’t get a call or text to go through, either. “Should we be worried?”
“No, let’s get to the road. Maybe the signal will be better as we get closer.”
But it didn’t get better. By the time they reached the road, the snow was so thick, Ian could barely see his hand stretched out before him. They tried the emergency number, but nothing was going through, and there was no shelter. The blowing ice bit into Ian’s skin. And worse, into his eyes.
“I hate to say it, but I think we should go back to the plane and wait out the worst of it.”
Ian didn’t want to go back. He was exhausted, starving, and he couldn’t wiggle his toes. He remembered reading that–although in the original crash in 1973 everyone survived–ironically, tourists died trying to see it: a Chinese couple and an American, like him. Hypothermia.
As if the photographer could read Ian’s mind, he said, “There’s no other option. I have a medical kit.”
“I can’t eat a medical kit,” Ian grumbled.
The storm didn’t end.
Days, not hours passed as a frigid, white hell.
And while the cockpit was technically a place that could be called shelter, it had window holes and jagged maws open to the storm on all sides. With the severe gusting, it filled. So this was what it feels like to freeze to death. Ian tried not to let his despair show. He talked about the ribeye steak he would devour when the storm passed and they were rescued, but the photographer was pensive. It was like he’d lost all will to relate or connect. But they had only each other. Ian kept trying to make conversation. It was the only thing to do, other than sleep or morbidly spiral into visions of their frozen corpses.
The days had blurred into each other by the time he started carving tally marks into the plane. He wasn’t sure if they’d been there six days or eight. The gloominess of his company started to get to him. “You know, it wasn’t my idea to ‘beat the storm.’ The least you can do is help pass the time.”
The photographer didn’t respond. Ian gave up and slept.
When he woke, it was with a startle. Something wasn’t right. There was a burning in his left hand. His body wasn’t obeying his mind when it said to sit up. In fact, he could not lift his head. “What’s going on?” he mumbled.
The photographer’s face leaned over him. “Don’t worry. I used a tourniquet. You’ll be alright. You cut yourself. I fixed you up.”
Ian didn’t recall cutting himself. They’d done nothing but burrow into the farthest reaches of the fuselage. He couldn’t imagine how he’d managed to injure himself. And not remember it.
How bright the photographer’s eyes looked; he had more energy, and his cheeks had some pink where they’d been grey. Something shifty in his eyes put a wrench in Ian’s gut. He managed a look at his burning hand without moving his head. It was wrapped in gauze. “What happened?”
“Shhhhhh. Sleep now.”
Ian did. Instantly.
And woke with the same dread. This time there was a burning in his arm, at his elbow, but he still couldn’t move. The feeling of hunger had left him, and in its place was delirium. It was nighttime, and the white snow was marred with splatters and splotches of a dark substance.
Ian couldn’t make words, but his mouth moved, and in response the photographer leaned over him once again. “Good. You’re still alive. I thought I’d lost you.” How healthy and robust the photographer appeared. His skin had the same healthy glow as when they’d first met. It was as if…
Understanding smashed Ian in a merciless blow. “You’re eating–“
“Shhhhh. Sleep now.”
This time, Ian woke to the smell of burning meat. The photographer had a torch lighter on Ian’s thigh and panned it back and forth, the flesh spitting and cracking and throwing tendrils of smoke.
“You’ll get the death penalty for what you’ve done to me,” Ian managed.
“There’s no death penalty in Iceland. But just in case…” He jammed a needle into Ian’s throat.
Ian woke blind and with half a tongue. His own blood tasted good as it slid down his parched throat. Even the blood that ran down his cheeks, he managed to lick some of that.
“I know you can still hear me, Ian. I’m not sure you’re going to make it out of here, but those shots we took…some of the best I ever got. Now I want you to sleep. Shhhhh…”
True: Ian originally stated he’d provide a picture to go along with his MTO, but ultimately he did not provide one. Aren’t you sad? 😉
Ian’s fascinating fact (with a much happier ending) in his own words:
While I was in Iceland, I posed nude for a professional photographer in the cockpit wreckage of a US Navy C-117D plane that crashed on a black sand beach in 1973. Everybody survived the plane crash, so it wasn’t morbid. (However, a couple of Chinese tourists died of hypothermia while trying to visit the wreckage a few years after our photo shoot.) The photographer liked my long hair, and sparked an idea of me portraying a sort of sole survivor in a remote, uninhabited area (like Castaway) – the idea being that, of course, this survivor wouldn’t have access to shears.
I had never posed nude before; and I hadn’t met the photographer before we met in Iceland… we had connected on the Couchsurfing website – where we agreed to meet up in Reykjavik, rent a car, and go on a road trip together. However, this photographer specializes in nude photography, and I’d seen the wide breadth of his work in the nude realm – so I figured that if there was ever a time to do this, I better do it in my 20s with a professional. He published a book soon afterward, and our intense portrait was splashed across 2 pages!
Here is some background on the airplane:
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