The highlight of a Falkland Islands
battlefield tour from Port Howard
are a couple of quite spectacular crash sites of Argentinian fighter jets that were brought down in the area by the British during the Falklands War
West Falkland wasn't a battlefield in the narrower sense, as no major land battles were fought here and only a few air strikes were carried out by the British on the Argentine garrison at Port Howard
. (For the real battlefields on the ground see Goose Green
and Stanley and environs
). However, West Falkland saw some of the most dramatic combat scenes in the air-war part of the conflict.
Attacking Argentine fighter planes would often approach low over West Falkland to hit targets on East Falkland and the British landing operations (at San Carlos
in particular) without too much risk of being intercepted or hit by anti-aircraft fire from Royal Navy ships. Some were intercepted, however, including by British fighter planes engaging their Argentine counterparts in classic dogfights – but using modern jets! The British had their aircraft-carrier-based Harriers
, and the Argentines sent their jets from the mainland, for example A-4 Skyhawks
(US-built ground-attack jets) and Daggers
(an Israeli derivative of the French
-designed supersonic Mirage
), bought second-hand from Israel
only a couple of years before the Falklands War
The British lost planes too in these confrontations, but their wrecks were mostly removed after the war. In contrast, the wreckage of some of the Argentine planes shot down by the British was left in place. This includes the two wrecks that form part of the Port Howard
battlefield tour (see below
The wreck of the Dagger (nee Mirage) marked C-404 was one of three or four jets of this type shot down on 21 May over West Falkland by British Harriers. C-404 was flown by Major Gustavo Piuma Justo. Like the other two pilots he managed to eject before the plane crashed to the ground, and all three survived! The pilots eventually made it back to the the safety of the Argentine garrison at Port Howard.
Major Piuma Justo later even travelled to the Falklands and visited the crash site of his plane! Our guide said that no hard feelings were expressed on that visit – Piuma allegedly just said something to the effect of "we were both just doing our jobs ..."
What there is to see:
There are several plane crash sites on West Falkland, but some are more accessible than others, some of which are in such remote locations as to be virtually impossible to get to as a normal tourist. Here I will therefore report only on those included in the battlefield tour from Port Howard
that I went on. (For lots more details on other crash sites consult the book The Falklands War Then and Now
– see under Falklands War
On this tour the first port of call was the site of an Argentine A-4 Skyhawk jet downed in a field somewhere off-road north-west of Port Howard itself. Right next to the impact crater, strewn with debris itself, lie the mangled remains of the plane's jet engine. A bit further away one of the wings lies in the grass, and part of the Skyhawk's distinctive tail section can be seen too. In between there are loads of interesting little bits and pieces.
Leaning against the engine was one of the plane's guns, rusty and slightly bent. It's remarkable that it was still there – as our guide pointed out, it's usually that sort of thing that gets lost to trophy/souvenir hunters. Speaking of this ... obviously one should not take things away from these sites, but many people have done – hence most plane crash sites on the Falklands have become quite depleted. This Skyhawk
crash site is one of the better preserved ones. (Some of the more valuable parts can these days be seen in the Port Howard war museum
, including the ejector seat and the cockpit canopy.)
But if that was impressive, the next crash site was even more stunning. This is one of the best known ones: the site where the Dagger
C-404 flown by Major Gustavo Piuma Justo came down (see above
In one cluster of wreckage from the front part of the plane you can see one of the air-inlets, the front landing gear and the cockpit section. The latter in particular is remarkable as you can see pedals and controls inside the burnt-out mangled mess.
On part of the fuselage you can see traces of a Star of David from the old Israeli Air Force marking shining through the burnt-off Argentine marking that was painted over it (the jets had been bought second-hand from Israel
). If you look closely at the wheel of the undercarriage, you can also see the words "Made in Israel" embossed on the rubber!
More debris is scattered across a large area around the site, including many intriguing little bits and pieces of hydraulics, controls, old electronics and so forth.
But the most stunning part has to be the jet engine. This lies a bit further away from the front part of the ex-plane and is broken up into two parts. The front almost allows you to study the inner workings of the rotary compression fans, bent but still gleaming, attached to the rusty core of the turbine.
The rear part of the engine, that is the part that contains the combustion chamber and afterburner/exhaust nozzle, features a dazzling bright kaleidoscope of colours, from bright blue to a deep violet. I guess that's from the heat. But whatever the physical reasons behind this may be – it's just an amazing sight to behold. It could have been a work of art!
Most of the wreckage is spread over an open boggy field – but one part has been placed by the side of the road (making it probably the easiest part of any of the Falklands' plane wrecks to locate without expert guiding). It is about two thirds of the port (left) wing, complete with flaps at the end and the plane's markings. On what was the top of the wing you can see the faded vestiges of the blue-white-and-blue Argentine Air Force marking. And on what was the bottom of the wing you can still clearly read the plane's identification number C-404 against the white background.
Those with neither a penchant for the often bizarre beauty of wreckage nor any interest in aviation or air wars may find all this rather boring and unremarkable – but I found it the most fascinating part of all the various battlefield tours I went on during my week in the Falkland Islands
very much off the beaten track, strewn out over the boggy fields and barren slopes of the hills of West Falkland
Google maps locator: [-51.5412,-59.6314
] – near wing marker of Dagger C-404 by the track.
Note: in addition to my regular main cameras I also took a compact with a GPS logger with me to these sites in the hope that I would later be able to pinpoint the various locations precisely afterwards. Unfortunately, this camera got knackered later on the trip, and the GPS readings I managed to salvage from the Exif files off the memory card back at home did not match the real locations; nor was the camera's own mapping software able to match the data with map locators. Never mind, though, the locations would hardly been accessible for anyone without an intimate familiarity with the terrain of the Falklands anyway (see access), so I may not even have used the GPS readings here. They may have lured people into potentially hazardous off-road forays that they should rather not attempt on their own.
Access and costs: in theory freely accessible, but you'll really need to fork out for a tour to find all such sites and actually get to them.
Details: normally, visitors will see these crash sites/plane wrecks as part of a longer battlefield tour, most commonly the one offered at Port Howard Lodge. One of the crash sites (that of Dagger C-404) is theoretically quite easy to find on an independent basis too – thanks to the wing having been put upright next the track as a marker. However, to get to the remainder of the debris field you'll need a 4x4 and the relevant driving skills (or try walking it all ...). Still, you'd run the risk of getting bogged down (and then what?), so unless you really are sure of the terrain and know what you're doing I cannot recommend doing this independently. It might constitute trespassing anyway (unless you ask for permission beforehand), as the land is nominally part of a sheep farm.
Anyway, you'd be very unlikely to ever find the other crash site (the A-4 Skyhawk) on your own. So to see both you'd need a guide in any case. I certainly did not regret investing the comparatively reasonable 40 GBP for the half-day battlefield tour that I did with the host of Port Howard Lodge, Wayne. About half of the time spent on the tour was devoted to the plane wreck sites – which alone is worth it. They were the first ports of call, before doing the points of interest closer to Port Howard itself.
the battlefield tour from Port Howard
Lodge that I was on consisted of a half-day excursion, of which something like an hour to an hour and a half was spent at the plane crash sites, plus driving time to get there and back (the rest was spent at various memorials and grave sites in the area).
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see the separate entries for Port Howard
and in particular its war museum
. The museum features various objects taken from these crash sites too, such as ejector seats or the other wing of the Dagger C-404 wreck and should not be missed when in West Falkland anyway.
There are yet more plane wrecks both further afield on West Falkland as well as on East Falkland, e.g. in remote locations in Lafonia. You can see a few photos on this website
(external link, opens in a new window).
- 01 - A-4 Skyhawk debris
- 02 - Skyhawk gun and engine
- 03 - impact crater and engine
- 04 - Skyhawk tail
- 05 - some part
- 06 - Skyhawk wing
- 07 - Mirage Dagger A debris
- 08 - Mirage air inlet
- 09 - you can still make out the old Star-of-David Israeli markings
- 10 - the origin of the plane is also visible on the tyres
- 11 - cockpit
- 12 - mangled cockpit interior
- 13 - black box of some sort
- 14 - old electronics
- 15 - landing gear hydraulics still shiny
- 16 - Mirage-Dagger jet engine
- 17 - mangled
- 18 - what colours
- 19 - k.o.-ed by heat
- 20 - rusty and still
- 21 - Dagger A wing with number
- 22 - wing put upright
- 23 - detail
- 24 - faded Argentinian air force colours