An Alaska glacier is exposing remains from a military air tragedy six decades later. Relics from an Air Force cargo plane that slammed into a mountain in November 1952, killing all 52 servicemen on board, first emerged last summer on Colony Glacier, about 50 miles east of Anchorage.
That discovery, by Alaska National Guard crews flying training missions out of Anchorage, put into motion a sophisticated recovery program carried out by the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.
After last year’s initial work – when nearly everything that rose to the glacier’s surface was picked up – the JPAC team came back this summer to collect additional relics pushed out of the ice since then.
“As the glacier melts and the glacier moves, more material comes up to the surface,” Dr. Gregory Berg, the forensic anthropologist who leads the team of specialists examining the crevasse-ridden ice field, told reporters at a news briefing last week.
Among the personal items collected so far: A tiny fishing kit, a compass, a survival kit, a survival suit, a hockey puck, and a mini-box of Camel cigarettes. Those and other items are being saved for a future memorial, said Doug Beckstead, a historian at Anchorage’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Also collected were some human remains, which Berg declined to describe in detail. But he said the material, encapsulated for decades in ice, is well-preserved and includes “things we believe to be tissue” – a contrast with conditions in Southeast Asia or other hot climates where the team travels to retrieve military remains long ago decomposed.
The remains will be sent to a laboratory in Hawaii for analysis, including possible DNA matches with surviving relatives, officials said.
No positive identifications have yet been announced. It usually takes several months to complete laboratory work, said Lee Tucker, a JPAC spokesman who traveled to Alaska. Identifications are expected to be announced “in the near future,” Berg said.