JOINT ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON BASE, Alaska (AP) – A lucky Buddha figurine, a flight costume, several 3-cent stamps, a 1952 crumpled mass scheme for St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, DC, and 480 bags of individual human remains.
Those were some of the items recovered this month from Alaska’s Colony Glacier, where an annual dismal search continues for human remains and debris after a military plane crashed 67 years ago, officials said.
The goal is to identify and return the remains of everyone on board the C-124 Globemaster, which hit Mount Gannett north of Anchorage on November 22, 1952, killing all 41 passengers and 11 crew, military officials said at a news conference Friday at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
The remains of the dead were not recovered at the time, and the plane and everything it held slowly fell to the bottom of the mountain, where it eventually became part of the Colony Glacier.
The crash was virtually forgotten until a military training mission spotted a yellow life raft on the glacier. In 2012, efforts began to scan the glacier to see what else has emerged, including human remains and other debris.
Now the race is underway to identify as many service workers as possible before the glacier plunges the wreck into Lake George, which will become a final resting place for all that has not been rescued.
So far, all passengers on board the flight from McChord Air Force Base in Washington State to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage have been identified for nine post-flight.
Captain Shelby Yoakum, Head of the Readiness and Plans Division at the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation at Dover Air Force Base, led this year’s three-week recovery effort on the glacier.
She said they might have searched the glacier for just a few more years before the debris field calved into the lake.
“I think we can all safely say that there are still remains that are yet to melt from the ice, and that we will definitely come back in the coming years to continue this mission, especially since we are not all 52 who have died, said Yoakum.
The last area they found this year was about 200 meters from the toe of the glacier, where the ice falls into the lake.
Officials couldn’t say when all of the glacier’s remains and debris would be lost to Lake George.
“The reality of the situation is all the debris and remains are constantly falling into crevices, big and small, and moving faster than some to the toe of the glacier,” said the military staff. Isaac Redmond, who was the rock climbing expert before the dig.
The remains are respectfully shipped to Dover in transfer cases, about the size of chests, and draped with flags. In Dover, the process will begin matching DNA from the remains with samples provided by surviving relatives at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.
It is not known how many of the nine service staff who have not yet competed can be among these remains or how long it takes to get results.
“We hope we get at least some new IDs out of this,” said Katherine Grosso, a medicolegal investigator at the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. “There will always be reconnected remains of previously identified service members, so we can deliver them to the families, too.”
Tonja Anderson-Dell of Tampa, Florida continues to lobby for the families of the nine service workers whose remains were not found, even after her own trip was completed.
For years, she waited for the military to identify the remains of her grandfather, Isaac Anderson, who was 21 when the plane was down.
After years of attending services for others whose loved ones were on the plane and settled down, she was notified in late 2018 that her grandfather’s remains had been found. A memorial service was held in May.
“That was overwhelming,” she said by phone on Friday. “I finally saw it. I’ve been to so many services and now have my grandfather come home – very emotional for myself and for my dad. ‘
She plans to remain an advocate for the families, but says some may never get their loved ones.
“I know there may be one or two in my heart because it just might be, but I hope they all shut down, you know, to know it was found,” she said.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.