Recovery efforts to find servicemen lost 64 years ago continue on glacier
Fifty miles east of Anchorage in a slow-moving bed of ice, the remains of 20 servicemen still wait to be found. They died more than 60 years ago when their plane crashed on Colony Glacier, an incident considered one of the worst plane crashes in Alaska’s military history.
The C-124 Globemaster crashed in bad weather in 1952 and disappeared into the ice for 60 years. In 2012, the ice revealed the wreckage and the bodies of the men aboard. This is the fifth year of recovery efforts on the glacier.
“Of the 52 personnel that were on the aircraft, 32 of them have already been identified over the past five years,” said Capt. Jason Collier, a planner for Alaskan Command. “Hoping to get a few more this year.”
The knowledge men are still out there weighs heavy on the search team.
“That’s our mission, is to find all 52,” said Allen Cronin, the chief of the Past Conflicts Branch of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations.
In the 64 years since the crash, the ice has moved 12 miles, moving debris and remains with it.
“We have lost some, because the debris field is so long so we have lost some off the face of the glacier,” Cronin explained.
As it moves, more of the plane is uncovered. The recovery team goes inch-by-inch, rock-by-rock, scouring the surface.
“It changes from week to week and so are our grids that we are creating and we’re working those grids,” Cronin said. “We have to go back in a week and do a walk over, make sure there’s nothing there.”
It’s a painstaking process for the team and for the families waiting for their loved ones’ remains, including Tonja Anderson-Dell. Her grandfather, airman Isaac Anderson Jr., was just 21 when he was killed, leaving her grandmother alone.
“I want to bring him back home,” Anderson-Dell said. “She spent all of her life thinking that one day he’d walk back through that door and he never did.”
As more remains are uncovered, she called the wait while they are identified a roller coaster.
“It’s tough every year, but I’ll say what my mother said to me: if God gives me my grandfather now, would I still fight for the rest of the men to come home?” she asked. “So I guess maybe he’ll be coming home in the end, so I’ll continue to keep fighting to bring them home.”
All of the victim’s families gave the military DNA samples so any remains found can be quickly identified. The recovery team will work on Colony Glacier six days a week for the month of June, which is the only time it’s safe for them to be out there – after the snow has melted but before the ice begins to melt itself.
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