In 1952, a military plane crashed into a mountain in Alaska, killing all 52 servicemen on board. Their remains were soon buried in snow and ice, and the Colony Glacier became their grave.
Today, the ice is melting enough to gradually reveal the wreckage and the remains of the men who perished in the 1952 plane crash, the Associated Press reported.
So far, 31 men have been identified, 25 of them from the Air Force, and Capt. Anastasia Wasem said that the military will keep looking.
“We never give up on our fallen service members until we physically can’t anymore.”
The goal of Operation Colony Glacier is to unearth and identify as many remains from the 1952 crash as possible before the wreckage and bones are pushed by the ice sheet into a nearby lake.
“We don’t know how far up the glacier the debris field, if you will, may exist,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Paul Cocker, the operation’s lead planner, told the Air Force Times. “A good estimate would be three to five more years, just based on what we’ve seen over the past four summers. I don’t think anybody would be able to predict exactly how long this will go.”
On November 22, 1952, the C-124 Globemaster was heading from McChord base in Washington to the Elmendorf base in Anchorage, Alaska, when the plane vanished with 41 passengers and 11 crew. A civil air patrol member named Terris Moore described the crash to the AP back in 1952.
According to CBS News, Moore said the plane was “flying at full speed” when it slammed into Mount Gannet. It then slid down snow-covered cliffs and exploded. The crash made the plane break up, its debris spread over two to three acres.
Immediately after the crash, recovery efforts began but were stopped by bad weather. A few days later, the wreckage was confirmed to be from the Globemaster by the Fairbanks Civil Air Patrol and a member of the 10th Air Rescue Squadron.
But by late November and into December 1952, the crash wreckage was buried in snow, and search parties were never able to find the plane or the remains of the men who perished. They have remained in Alaska ever since.
After the plane crash wreckage “churned beneath the surface of the glacier” for 60 years, an Alaska National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk was flying overhead and spotted the plane. The ice had started to melt and shifted enough to expose the debris. The more it moves, more of the Globemaster is exposed.
Since then, people have returned to Alaska to search. Civilians and a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and a joint task force team, Alaskan Command, and Alaska National Guard personnel have returned to the crash site to recover the remains of both the plane and the servicemen from the 1952 crash.
The recovery effort has been limited to Alaska’s warmer summer months in the past four years. Searchers have to wear safety gear and ice cleats and as they dig in frozen dirt and ice for bones. So far, 31 people have been found and identified. Of that total, 25 were members of the Air Force, four were from the Army, and one each in the Navy and Marines.
All of the men will be brought home to their families to be buried with full military honors. The first burial is for Army Pvt. Leonard A. Kittle, of Caney, Kansas. Also identified from last October to earlier this month: Capt. Kenneth Duvall, 2nd Lt. Robert Moon, Airmen 2nd Class Thomas Condon and Conrad Sprague, Capt. Walter Perrin Tribble and Airman 2nd Class Bernis F. White, Airman 3rd Class Loyd L. Matthews, and Airman 2nd Class Bateman R. Burns.
For Tonja Anderson-Dell, the identification of these men is bittersweet, because her grandfather isn’t among them. Isaac Anderson, 21, died in the 1952 plane crash and hasn’t yet been found, still lying in Alaska ice.
“He wasn’t part of the ones that will be coming home. However, I am still happy for the families that are bringing their servicemen home.”
[Image via Denis Burdin/Shutterstock]