Beautiful, frightening, and uplifting all at once, "Happy End" is a photo series that highlights plane crashes with 100% survival rates.
Above: "Life is a Tide" – Happy End #8.1, USA, 2012 | The pilot swam to shore with favorable tides in 1947 and is still alive 65 years later
The collection is by German photographer Dietmar Eckell, and it's positively breathtaking. He spent over two years researching downed planes from around the world and documenting their stories, visiting four continents in the process. Writes Eckell on his Indiegogo page, where he's raising money to turn the series into a photobook:
'Happy End' is a photo-project about miracles in aviation history - 15 airplanes that had forced landings but ALL on board survived and were rescued from the remote locations. The planes remain abandoned in nowhere since 10-70 years. It's part of my long term project 'restwert' (german for residual value) to document abandoned objects with fascinating backgrounds like cold war relicts, olympic sites, flooded churches, railroad tracks, never finished nuclear reactors, overgrown adventure parks etc.
"The Scenic Route to Nowhere" – Happy End #3.1, Mexico, 2010 | Grunman Albatross, no official report as drug trafficking plane - locals say all survived
Eckell writes that "aviation miracles are rare." Not to detract from the impressiveness of these photos, but his claim is really only true if your conditions for an "aviation miracle" require more than everyone aboard living through a plane crash (though it's more than likely Eckell is operating under a different definition than we are – more on that below). The word "miracle," after all, implies infrequency, but it turns out surviving a plane crash is more common than most people realize: a recent survey by the National Transportation Safety Board found that 95.7% of people involved in commercial airline accidents between 1983 and 2000 survived.
"Passion is Rebel To Reason" – Happy End #4.1, West Sahara, 2011 | Avro Shackleton Pelican, 27y SAAF, forced landing on flight to UK, all 19 saved by polisario rebels in July '94
In fact, even when the NTSB looked only at the very worst aviation accidents, the overall survival rate was 76.6%.
"Never Eat More Than U Can Lift" – Happy End #5.1, Canada, 2011 | Curtiss C46 Commando, nickname miss piggy as she could load so much freight and once did have pigs on board, all survived in 1979
By the way: the percentages cited above don't mean that 4.3% of people will die in any given plane crash (which would obviously violate that whole "everybody lives" clause), or that –in cases of really terrible collisions – 7 out of 10 passengers are doomed: of the 568 accidents examined in the NTSB study, only 71 resulted in any deaths. Far from "miraculous," it turns out the majority of flights actually crash-land with no fatalities whatsoever.
But, again, it's likely that Eckell is operating under a more rigorous definition of "aviation miracle" than we are. The NTSB study, for instance, looked predominantly at modern passenger jets on commercial flights within the U.S., which are subject to stringent safety measures and well-defined emergency protocols. Your average 737 incorporates a slew of features designed to protect aircraft occupants' lives should an accident occur. You typical B24 bomber? Not so much.
"Swamp Ghost" – Happy End #15.1, Papua New Guinea, 2013 | 70 years ago this B24 ran out of gas. All 9 airmen survived.
There are no major commercial airline jets to speak of in Eckell's series. What's more, many of the planes he's photographed crash landed abroad, or in remote regions of the world. Eckell's extensive research has brought the stories behind these aircraft to light, and with them the uniquely dire circumstances under which they came to arrive – violently but non-fatally – at their final places of rest.
"Fuel of Life" – Happy End #6.1, Canada, 2011 | Curtiss C46 Commando lost engine power on a fuel run, all survived in 1977
"My photography is not about documenting the planes condition & details but how they are embedded in grand nature after so many years," says Eckell. "I try to capture the surreal beauty of these settings using high viewpoints or shooting through layers."
"Inspired by the shipwreck painters of the romantic period i look for dramatic skies, late light or fall colors to 'glorify' these wonderful planes."
Tons more of Eckell's spellbinding work – including many more hi-res photos from this and other photo series – on his website. His Indiegogo campaign to convert the series into a photobook (a video for which appears below) recently met its goal, but last I checked there were still discounted copies still available should you feel like contributing. Go check it out, or watch the campaign video below.