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Glacier wreckage linked to 1952 Alaska plane crash that killed 52

Ben Anderson

Officials say that a plane crash discovered earlier in June near Alaska's Colony Glacier is likely an Air Force C-124 Globemaster that crashed in the area in 1952, killing all 52 aboard.

According to Capt. Jamie Dobson, a spokeswoman with Joint MIA/POW Accounting Command (JPAC), which spearheaded the investigation and recovery efforts, debris recovered from the crash site points to the Korean-War-era crash. 

"Some of the evidence we've found correlates with that (crash)," she said. "That doesn't eliminate the possibility that there could be other things. We're not taking anything off the table yet." 

Although the investigation continues and there have been a number of crashes in the area, the command wanted to let family members of personnel involved in those crashes know which way the evidence was pointing.

"With so many aircraft missing, we recognize that we could let some people know that some of this evidence looks like the 1952 crash, and that this is what we think we found, and not string them along as the investigation continues," Dobson said.

The plane crashed on Nov. 22, 1952, en route to Anchorage from Washington State. It crashed into Mount Gannett with 41 passengers and 11 crew members aboard. None survived. The wreckage was discovered six days later, on Nov. 28, but was eventually lost in the grumbling movement of the Colony Glacier, which is near Knik Glacier, about 50 miles east of Anchorage.

That movement continued, prompting the hasty recovery effort after the investigative team arrived at the crash site last week. The team was concerned that evidence could be lost among the glacier's craggy crevasses. The wreck was first spotted on June 10 by an Army National Guard helicopter that was running a routine training mission. Two weeks later, investigators were at the scene with support from Joint-Base Elmendorf Richardson and the Northern Warfare Training Center at Fort Wainwright.

Among the evidence recovered was life-support equipment and bone fragments. Any material recovered from the site will be returning to Hawaii, where JPAC is based, for further investigation and confirmation. JPAC hopes to eventually compare DNA from the remains with surviving family members of the crash victims.

Tonja Anderson, whose grandfather Isaac Anderson was aboard the plane, said that the rest of the process could take anywhere from six months to a year or more. She said that she had spent years trying to convince the military to return to the site of the crash to stage a recovery effort, but had given up until just a few years ago.

It took many years before she was even able to hold a funeral for her grandfather, a funeral Tonja's grandmother -- Isaac Anderson's wife -- didn't live to see.

"She died of cancer," Tonja Anderson said. "I asked her what had happened to my grandfather, and she said, 'You do whatever you need to do (to find him)'."

Anderson said that she cried when she got the official word that the recovered material was from her grandfather's plane. She had also contacted her father Wednesday, who was less than 2 years old when his own father died in the crash. 

"He broke down in tears as well," she said. "It wasn't just a story to him anymore -- it was real."

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com