US Air Force volunteers have retrieved 460 bags of partial human remains from the wreckage of a military transport plane that crashed in Alaska 68 years ago, killing all 52 people aboard.
Saturday’s recovery effort saw crews comb the Colony Glacier on Mount Gannett in Alaska to gather further remains from a November 1952 crash. It saw a C-124 Globemaster slam into the mountain, killing all 41 passengers – who were a mixture of Army and Air Force personnel – as well as 11 Air Force crew.
A previous recovery effort saw 43 sets of remains identified, with investigators hopeful that Saturday’s discoveries could help identify the other nine passengers whose bodies were never found, and bring closure to their families.
Servicemen and women combed ice, rocks and tree branches during their efforts, and also brought back 100 bags of personal items belonging to those killed in the crash, according to a press conference held on Tuesday.
The jet is believed to have struck the mountain at high speed, scattering its fuselage over several acres.
Its wreckage was only discovered in 2012, with retrieval efforts beginning shortly afterwards.
It has been combed by Air Force men and women from Mortuary Affairs Operations, which is based at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
The remains and personal effects have been taken there for further analysis in an attempt to identify them.
Lead planner Captain Briana Quintana said the remains and objects were in a good state because of the cold and remote area where the plane had crashed.
She said: ‘They’re being preserved pretty well in the ice.’
Previous recovery missions from the C-124 Globemaster unearthed the remains of 43 of the victims who were identified using DNA, dental records or fingerprints, officials said Tuesday at a news conference to discuss results of this year´s effort.
Katherine Grosso, a medical legal investigator with the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, said crews working on Colony Glacier, which is nearly 50 miles east of Anchorage, have noticed it is ‘really dynamic, that it changes rapidly, daily.’
‘As we participate in this mission from year to year, we find that not only does the pitch of the glacier change, but the type of material that you find on it changes,’ she said.
They saw a lot of silt, mud and miniscule bits of rock, which makes fragments of remains difficult to find, she added.
‘It’s required a little bit more of finesse to be able to recover those,’ Grosso said. However, ‘we´re still finding that we´re able to recover quite a bit of material.’
Among the personal items found on the glacier from the wreckage were two playing cards, the seven and queen of spades; a pair of shoes; a 1944 map of what looks like the Anchorage area; and two chess pieces.
These were chosen for display at the news conference because they showed the everyday items that military members on board moving from Washington state to Anchorage would have, though there was no personal identifiers on them, said the deputy planner for the mission, Capt. Lyndi Minott, also stationed at Dover.
Also found was a camera, but there was no film inside. Minott said they found film on the glacier, but it didn´t contain images.
Of all the personal items recovered this year, the camera struck a chord with Minott
‘That´s only because my father takes a lot of photos and loves to document our lives,’ she said. ‘To have a personal effect like that found was an emotional experience.’
The Alaska National Guard first found wreckage from the plane in 2012 during a training mission. Since then, military officials have set up annual trips to recover remains of the crew and passengers of the plane.
It was travelling to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage from Fort McChord in Washington state when harsh weather caused it to crash on Nov. 22, 1952. By the time a search party arrived about two weeks later, the plane was covered by deep snow and couldn’t be located.
Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the wreckage being spotted at the toe of Colony Glacier, 12 miles downhill from where the plane hit Mount Gannett.
When asked how long the military will continue to search for remains, Quintana, this year´s mission leader, said, ‘I can say with some confidence that as long as we are finding remains out on the glacier and we have people yet to identify and bring home, we will keep looking.’