Army Capt. Jamie Dobson with the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command says the wreckage -- discovered on Colony Glacier June 10 by a UH-60 Blackhawk crew with the Alaska Army National Guard -- is that of a Douglas C-124A Globemaster II that crashed in the area on Nov. 22, 1952.
While evidence collected by the eight-man team is en route to JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii for further analysis, Dobson said the plane was identifiable by materials found at the scene.
“Some of the evidence has already been positively correlated with this crash,” Dobson said.
The Globemaster II entered Air Force service in 1950 as the world’s largest transport plane. Its forward loading ramp and aft cargo elevator, as well as its ability to carry 68,500 pounds of cargo or 200 passengers on two decks of seating, made it the Air Force’s primary heavy-lift transport into the early 1960s.
The four-propeller transport was eventually replaced by the C-141 Starlifter jet, but its name lives on in Alaska skies with the C-17 Globemaster III, operated by the 517th Airlift Squadron at Anchorage’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
According to crash researcher Tonja Anderson, whose grandfather Airman Isaac Anderson died in the crash, the cargo plane was on a flight from McChord Air Force Base in Washington to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage when it crashed near the 8,000-foot level of Mount Gannett.
An Associated Press article from November 1952 described the C-124A’s loss as one of a staggering nine military plane crashes in the Pacific and the western U.S. that month, including three others with Alaska ties. A C-119 Flying Boxcar crashed into Mount McKinley while flying from Elmendorf to Big Delta on Nov. 7, killing 19 men, and another C-119 disappeared en route from Anchorage to Kodiak with 20 men on board. After the C-124A went down, a C-54 Skymaster that left Anchorage crashed at its destination in Tacoma, Wash. on Nov. 28, killing 37 of 39 people on board.
A major search effort for the Globemaster II ensued, and its wreckage was initially spotted by the crew of a search B-17 bomber on Nov. 25. News reports say Dr. Terris Moore, the president of the University of Alaska, landed his ski-equipped plane at the site of the wreckage on Nov. 28, 1952 with Lt. Thomas Sullivan of the 10th Air Rescue Group.
According to a Dec. 1, 1952 story from the Anchorage Daily Times, Moore and Sullivan were able to confirm the identity of the crash from the only surviving part of the C-124A, its tail. Moore said blood was found on a blanket at the scene, which was permeated by what he called a “sickly sweet smell of death.”
“The plane hit the mountainside, exploding and disintegrating upon impact,” the Times story said. “Six to eight feet of powdered snow covered everything.”
Moore told the Times that the plane slammed into a peak near the summit at full speed, then slid down the mountainside. It somehow avoided crashing into several other 10,000-foot peaks in the area before hitting Mount Gannett.
“The plane missed two or three ridges by only 50 to 100 feet,” Moore said.
A 12-person military team hiked up the mountain that month to investigate the crash site with sporadic support from military helicopters, but weather conditions and inaccessibility frustrated initial recovery efforts.
What followed according to Anderson, who has actively investigated the C-124A crash for about 12 years, was a long period of trying to learn more about the incident, as well as convince the military to bring back the bodies from the crash site.
After receiving copies of old newspaper stories on the crash from the Alaska State Library, she talked the military into conducting a flyover of the wreckage, but the scene was covered in snow and nothing was visible. When she asked officials about mounting a recovery operation, she was told it would be too expensive.
Anderson told Channel 2 that it took decades to persuade the military to hold an official funeral for her grandfather, with an empty casket, at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida in 2002, 50 years after the crash. She said it helped her grandmother, who died of cancer shortly before the 9/11 terror attacks, cope with the loss in her final days.
“All she ever asked for was a flag,” Anderson said. “They said they would go ahead and give us closure, and give us the flag.”
Anderson said that when JPAC officials first contacted crash victims’ families, they told her that bones, mail and dog tags were found at the site -- offering her and 51 other service members’ next of kin a final answer to an enduring mystery.
“I cried,” Anderson said.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.