By Nathan Morley
IT WAS once the pride of the airline industry – but now, almost 60 years after making one of the most celebrated flights in history, it’s stripped-down and vandalised body makes for a sorry sight.
Few people, if any, have any idea that the cut up fuselage sitting in the blazing sun on a scrap-heap in Lakatamia is the remains of the first commercial passenger aircraft to fly across the North Pole – an event which looms large in the history of aviation.
The plane’s remarkable history was uncovered by musician Giovanni Galetti after he spotted the aircraft several years ago dumped among used tires and piles of garbage on wasteland near the old Lakatamia airstrip.
Galetti says he had no idea of its significance until he started some detective work trawling through newspaper archives and the internet, when he finally identified the aircraft as being the famed DC-6B SAS Arild Viking.
“I was always wondering why a big plane like that could have been in a place like this. Most people I asked said it was an old army plane, so when I went to the site I could still see a faded registration number under the old paint – from there it was not so difficult to trace the history,” Galetti told the Sunday Mail, “Obviously when I found out this was such a special aircraft, I was excited.”
The Arild Viking was no ordinary aircraft – in 1952 it made headlines in every corner of the world when it completed a pioneering polar flight on a route to Scandinavia by way of the Arctic region, leaving Los Angeles for Copenhagen via Thule air base, in Greenland. The flight, which covered 5,940 miles, took 27 hours and 52 minutes.
Passengers included the Danish and Swedish ambassadors to the USA, military and civilian officials.
Such was the uncertainty that the flight would succeed, arctic survival equipment was also loaded on board, including sleeping bags, skis and snow-shoes, snow shovels and rifles.
The success of the Arild Viking caused an outpouring of national delight in Sweden, Denmark and Norway and opened the way for regular scheduled services between Europe, the USA and Japan via the North Pole and in 1962 SAS airlines was awarded the Christopher Columbus Prize – often called the Nobel Prize of communication – in recognition of its pioneering transpolar achievements.
“The Arild Viking flight was a very big achievement for the civilian air industry because no one else had opened regular flights over the polar area,” a spokesman for SAS told the Sunday Mail.
SAS sold the Arild Viking to Icelandic Airways in the early 1960s, from there it moved to Thai Air, then to a cargo company. With few people aware of its former past, the plane is thought to have eventually arrived in Cyprus in 1979, where it was damaged at Larnaca airport and earmarked to be converted into a café or restaurant, but its history since then remains sketchy.
In 1990, it was moved to Lakatamia, where it was broken up and has remained since.
Today, the Arild Viking provides a heartbreaking sight – only the wings and part of the body are recognisable and vandals have covered the remains in graffiti, broken the windows and carved gaping holes in the fuselage. A wealth of artifacts are scattered around the remnants, including seatbelts, cockpit dials and engine parts.
According to Galetti, the plane had been in fairly good condition until vandals moved in a few years ago, leaving a trail of destruction by smashing much of the body. The cockpit and tail have now disappeared altogether.
Former pilot and aviation journalist Pete Combs told the Sunday Mail that the DC-6B was a remarkable long-range commercial aircraft and the Arild Viking had met a truly undignified end.
“I cover a lot of aviation history and a lot of aviation disasters. This is both. Arild Viking opened an era of over-the-pole aviation that has benefited passengers from the world over. It should be in a museum – not an unrecognisable wreck in a trash pile. What a tragedy.”
Danish Ambassador to Nicosia Kirsten Geelan described the find as being: “A remarkable story and piece of detective work.”
For many aviation buffs that have tried for years to fill in the blank pages of the Arild Viking’s history, its discovery is a significant, but depressing find.