Military specialists are surveying an old plane crash site in the Knik Glacier area. The C-124 Globemaster went down there in 1952, and some of the debris was spotted last June. A team from the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command or JPAC, initially searched the site in 2012 for materials and possible victims’ remains. The team is back this year to recover what evidence it can that will help identify those who perished in the crash.
A retreating Colony Glacier is revealing, bit by bit, scraps of the lives lost when the old cargo transport went down over half a century ago. JPAC’s Lee Tucker said the melting glacier has uncovered more of the debris field this year. The plane’s manifest indicates fifty two people were on the downed flight.
“It’s an important mission. Not only are we looking for these 52 individuals, around the world, JPAC is looking for 84 thousand of our missing service members. That’s why this is important to us. We hope to be able to provide closure to these service members families. “
Tucker spoke at a meeting with the media on Joint Base Elmendorf – Richardson on Tuesday. He was joined by Doctor Greg Berg, a forensic anthropologist and recovery team leader who was still dressed in field gear, having just stepped off a flight coming in from the wreck site
“So this year what we’ve seen is a dramatic shift down glacier which has then brought new materials to light, number one, and number two, it has brought completely different materials to light than were present last year.”
Berg says the recovery site is as long as two football fields, stretched lengthwise, and riddled with dangerous crevasses
“And the materials that were down in the bottom of those crevasses came back up a little, bit, or the melt came down, but whatever that was, it allowed those areas that we couldn’t get to last year to come to light again. “
But the team has recovered items that could link debris to actual human beings.
“The things that we keep are things that are directly related to an individual on that aircraft, something that we can tie straight back to him, something like a journal or dog tags or a clothing item that may have a name in it. “
Berg says some human remains from the wreck were being analyzed at a JPAC laboratory, but he declined to discuss any further information regarding victim identification. He did say two ID tags had been recovered at this point.
Berg pointed to a table strewn with flotsam and jetsam: a crushed metal canteen, a shredded mailbag, crumpled cigarette packages still bearing the Camel and Phillip Morris logos, along with remarkably preserved packets of survival gear. But 11th Air Force historian Douglas ” Crash” Beckstead says no one could have survived the Globemaster’s crash
“And you want to know what caused the crash? Bad weather. The accident investigation report from 1953, it was done several months, completed several months later. And the plane basically flew into a mountain. It was in the clouds, they couldn’t see, and it flew into the side of Mt. Gannite.”
Military officials knew the plane was in the vicinity, but it wasn’t until last summer that a Alaska Army National Guard crew on a routine mission spotted pieces of the wreck revealed by the shrinking glacier. Berg stresses that the recovery team is only looking at a small portion of the aircraft. Now that the glacier is retreating even faster, Berg says further recovery efforts are likely.
A second team started moving the debris from the glacier on Tuesday, taking 1800 pounds back by days’s end.
Their plan is to remove as much of the wrecks’ debris this year as is possible, monitor the area, and determine what future recovery missions are needed.