Debris from old military plane on glacier collected for analysis

Anchorage Daily NewsJune 26, 2012 

A Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) recoveryteam works at the site where military aircraft wreckage was found on ColonyGlacier, Alaska. The surface was marked with deep crevasses so the team took numerous safety precautions to mitigate the risk. The five-man teaminitially went out to investigate the area, but deteriorating conditions onthe glacier caused the team to transition into recovery mode to ensure themost amount of evidence could be recovered for further analysis at JPAC'sCentral Identification Laboratory.

CPT JAMIE D. DOBSON / U.S. ARMY PHOTO

Investigators are done collecting pieces of an old military plane discovered high in the mountains east of Anchorage that has likely been slowly churning inside a glacier for about 60 years, military officials said Tuesday.

Further analysis is needed before the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command can say for sure who was onboard the plane, thought to been built in the 1950s, according to a JPAC spokeswoman.

An Army National Guard helicopter crew noticed what appeared to be pieces of an aircraft and some human remains on Colony Glacier, about 45 miles from Anchorage, during a training flight earlier this month. A five-person team of investigators flew to the glacier last week to look at the roughly 150-foot-wide, 2,000-foot-long area criss-crossed by deep cracks in the ice, said JPAC spokeswoman Capt. Jamie Dobson.

"It was basically a brown spot on a bunch of ice. "It just looked like a dirt pile," Dobson said. "They felt with the evidence that had surfaced, that maybe 10 percent of the aircraft was visible in that area."

What was supposed to be an initial assessment of the area quickly moved to a recovery mission as the glacier melted and shifted, raising concerns that the small plane pieces would disappear again, Dobson said.

The team put on climbing harnesses and crampons, roped themselves together and started collecting, Dobson said. The investigators worked on the glacier from June 19 to 21. The evidence they gathered -- including possible human remains and some of the plane's life-support equipment -- was flown to their laboratories in Hawaii, Dobson said.

Though there were likely some pieces inside the crevasses, the team stayed on top for safety, Dobson said.

For now, the investigators' official answer is the evidence appears to point to a 1950s-era plane, and there are some initial guesses as to what type of plane they found, Dobson said. Those early assessments are included in reports and won't be shared publicly, she said.

A separate anthropologist who hasn't worked on the case yet will also look at the evidence, Dobson said.

"They do what we call 'working in the blind,' " she said. "That's so they don't get biased by the presumptions and the opinions out on the ice."

The debris presented a unique challenge to the team, Dobson said. And the fact that anyone ever spotted it to begin with was amazing, she said.

"It's remarkable. For 60 years, this evidence was working its way through the glacier," Dobson said. "And it just so happened that on that day, when it surfaced, a helicopter pilot was curious enough to check it out."


Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

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