7 decades later, the military is searching for the remains of 19 service members

Inside the Gates
7 decades later, the military is searching for the remains of 19 service members
Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 9:53 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Boots trekked on the Eldridge Glacier as service members kicked off their first military-led search and rescue mission as part of “Operation Eldridge Glacier,” a project looking for the remains of 19 service members who died in a plane crash seven decades ago.

It’s a project that has those involved feeling lucky, including Cmdr. Benjamin Ross with the U.S. Navy.

“It’s a pretty special feeling to be a part of this mission. This is my second year being involved in Operation Eldridge Glacier and it’s different than anything I’ve done before in my career,” Ross said. “It’s a different kind of impact in working to reunite family members with the remains of their loved ones.”

On Nov. 7, 1952, a team of U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army service members were performing a routine training flight when their plane, a C-119 Flying Boxcar, crashed into Mt. Silverthrone in the Denali Mountain Range. All on board were presumed dead.

After suspected debris from the C-119 turned up on the Eldridge Glacier in 2016, the National Park Service worked with Air Force historians to confirm the wreckage was in fact from the 1952 crash.

Since the wreckage has been found, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations and Alaska Command have been investigating the crash site and have conducted numerous boot-on-ice assessments.

Last year, the military completed a successful on-ice risk assessment to better gauge the feasibility of the mission. In July, a team of 11 made their first attempt to search for remains.

“We do some reconnaissance from the air, from the aircraft, to identify kind of the extent of the debris field and look for anything we haven’t found already on foot,” Ross said. “But the primary search is with the 11-man team being on the ground walking around on the glacier. Some of the bits and remains that we may be looking for can be quite small and will only be found by being physically on the glacier.”

As the glacier melts, bits and pieces of the aircraft are starting to be revealed.

So far no success has been made in finding any remains. But it’s a mission that service members remain determined to complete.

“Despite the conditions of where this incident has occurred, our priority, especially coming out of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, is to ensure that these fallen members are returned to their loved ones and surviving family members,” Maj. Monica Hottle, with the U.S. Air Force, said. “Sure, there was a lot of time that has passed, however, it’s absolutely paramount to bring closure to loved ones.”

Hottle said the project plans to continue, in hopes they can return their fallen soldiers and airmen with dignity, honor, and respect, back home.