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Mendel Glacier WWII era crash site

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Mendel Glacier WWII era crash site

Postby Skibum » Fri Aug 17, 2007 10:12 pm

For those who were interested with this case a few years back concerning the WWII era flyer that we recovered from Mendel Glacier, it would apear that possibly another member of that aircraft crew has become exposed from the retreating glacier. I will be flying up in the a.m. to investigate.

Will fill in details when I get back. If given the o.k.

On a sad side note. Yes, Mr. Nyguyen was located deceased on Isoscoles Pk. on 8/16...

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Postby ERIC » Mon Aug 20, 2007 4:54 pm

Remains on glacier possibly WWI-era aviator

By Marc Benjamin / The Fresno Bee
08/20/07 14:12:40
http://www.fresnobee.com/updates/story/117275.html


The remains of what may be a World War II-era military aviator have been found on a remote glacier in Kings Canyon National Park, where the remains of another pilot were found two years ago.

Image
In a October 2005 file photo, forensic anthropologist Paul Emanovsky glances back
at the bundled remains of a World War II-era airman found frozen in the High Sierra.
Authorities said Monday that the remains of another body were found recently in
the same location.


Fresno County Coroner Dr. David Hadden said the National Park Service is overseeing retrieval of the remains, which are located at 12,000 feet on Mount Mendel, the same area where another flyer was found in 2005.

A news conference is scheduled this afternoon at the Fresno County Coroner's office to discuss the retrieval. During the briefing, a representative of the Joint POW/MIA Acting Command (JPAC) from Hawaii will be present, said Alexandra Picavet, a spokeswoman for Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. JPAC is the same agency that identified the aviator found in 2005 on Mount Mendel.

"It could be somebody from the same flight," Picavet said. "Initial evidence leads us to believe he is from the same era."

The remains of Leo Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn., were discovered in 2005. A blizzard is believed to have caused the crash on the 13,691-foot Sierra Nevada peak, according to weather reports on Nov. 18, 1942. When the crash occurred, the training flight was about 200 miles off course.

Others on that flight were: Army cadets John Mortensen, 25, of Moscow, Idaho; Ernest Munn, 23, of St. Clairesville, Ohio; and the pilot, 2nd Lt. William Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio.

Check with FresnoBee.com for further updates and pick up tomorrow's Bee for more information.
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Postby Skibum » Mon Aug 20, 2007 7:14 pm

Greetings,

Just got off the Mendel Glacier. Mission accomplished. We recovered another crew member from the same flight. I'm a little fried right now so I'll post details later. The incident will probably be in the news tonight or tommorow.

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Postby tomcat_rc » Tue Aug 21, 2007 9:42 am

thanks for updates - please keep this story alive
mountain hiking is addictive:
I can quit anytime I want - I just choose not to want
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Postby Snow Nymph » Tue Aug 21, 2007 9:51 pm

Looking forward to hearing about this! Thanks for all that you guys do!
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


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Postby Snow Nymph » Wed Sep 12, 2007 11:13 pm

Skibum, any news?
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


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Postby Skibum » Fri Sep 14, 2007 6:23 pm

Hey Cori,

It will be a little while before his identidy will be released. The airman was flown to Hawaii (JPAC) for possitive identification.

I have lots of pics from the first airman we recovered and this guy. I'll see what I can do as far as posting some pics. With my crummy dial-up up here, it's a little troublesome. I'll work on it, promise!

Sorry I'm going to miss the Topix gathering. I'm going to be on the east side the 17-22! Agassiz, maybe Sill, Dana on the way home. Will be in Mammoth on Thurs. scoping condos. The prices are coming down! :unibrow:

Are u going to be up before the Topix weekend?
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Mendel Glacier WWII era crash site

Postby Final Flight » Sun Sep 16, 2007 2:00 pm

For nearly two years I've been conducting research for FINAL FLIGHT, my book about the Beech 18 AT-7 Navigator #41-21079 that crashed into Mt. Mendel in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks on November 18, 1942. The book project is the outgrowth of a magazine article I wrote for Sierra Heritage, published in Sept/October 2006. You can read a PDF version of the story at: http://www.peterstekel.com/PDF-HTML/Mystery.PDF

Two ice climbers discovered the body of Cadet Leo Mustonen on the Mendel Glacier in October, 2005. In August, 2007, while exploring the Mendel Glacier, my hiking partner and I discovered the body of a second cadet.

There are many confusing reports about the crash. Some were created by the lack of records from the time and others came about by poor research on the part of past writers and the media during Cadet Mustonen's recovery and identification. This is not to bash the work of these other writers! Being a freelance writer I fully understand the crush of deadlines and of having assignments in fields I do not fully comprehend or understand. Journalists these days must often file a story/day [or more]. It is a hard job and errors are often made.

To help with clearing up some confusion about the crew: There were four aviators [pilot 2nd Lt William Gamber and cadets Mustonen, Munn and Mortenson] aboard 41-21079 when it vanished.

In 1947, some UC Berkeley students found wreckage from what was eventually identified as the plane below Mt. Mendel. One of the students guided a small recovery team consisting of Capts Robert Lewis [age 28, from San Bernardino, CA], Andrew Walton and Robert Goulding and USFS Ranger Neil L. Perkins. They horse-packed in from Florence Lake to the crash site. According to the 1947 USAAF report, "The remains of the deceased were not recoverable."

In 1948, another attempt, commanded by Capt Roy F. Sulzbacher, from Ft Lewis, WA, to recover remains was made but to no avail.

If anyone has knowledge of how to contact any of these captains [or their families], I would be most appreciative.

I have designed a web page for FINAL FLIGHT where links to news articles may be found as well as information about my book project.

I have also posted some photos from my August trip on the FINAL FLIGHT page including images of the aircraft's radial engines and what I believe to be is an exhaust manifold. I would be very grateful to hear from anyone who is knowledgeable about the Pratt & Whitney engines used in the Beech 18 - particularly the cryptic writing found inside the engine cowling.


I'd particularly like to speak to Skibum when he or she gets back into town.
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Postby copeg » Mon Sep 24, 2007 6:48 am

Hopes of closure surface with discovery of body of WW II airman
By Patrick May

Mercury News

San Jose Mercury News

Article Launched:09/24/2007 01:37:33 AM PDT

He was sitting on top of the rocks when they found him, hunched over like a writer might lean into a keyboard. With his left arm tucked into his chest, the Army airman, or what remained of him after six decades atop this California glacier, was wearing a coarsely woven brown sweater. His wavy hair bleached by the sun, he had waited patiently for this moment, his undeployed parachute still at his side.

When sunlight glinted off the airman's ring, Peter Stekel stopped in his tracks. The Seattle author had been researching the story last month of a crew of World War II servicemen whose plane vanished in 1942 after taking off from a Sacramento airfield when he discovered the remnants of the 65-year-old accident scene. What Stekel found was a tangle of plot lines - aviation mystery, scientific riddle, and a heart-wrenching drama playing out for six decades in small towns across the United States.

"I thought about this guy's family finally getting closure," Stekel said. "I always thought that was a hackneyed phrase, and it is, until you're in a position to understand what it really means," he said. "My journal from that night says something like 'after 65 years in the glacier, somebody's going to know who you are. You're finally coming home.' "

The case is a forensic replay for military anthropologists now trying to identify the remains. Two years ago, ice climbers had found the frozen body of another one of the four crew members, air Cadet Leo Mustonen, 50 feet from the body Stekel discovered Aug. 15 on Mendel Glacier in Kings Canyon National Park. To identify Mustonen, authorities collected DNA samples from the airmen's families. This time, with the DNA already in hand, investigators hope to identify the second airman within weeks.

For the three remaining families, the anguished wait continues.
From DNA to dental records to physical clues like a dried-up leather wallet, "we're letting the evidence speak to us," said Dr. Robert Mann with the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command in Honolulu, the largest forensic lab in the world. "With no living witnesses, we have to work with 60-year-old pieces of a puzzle and put it together again."

Investigators are all but certain that the mummified remains are one of the three men who vanished with Mustonen when their AT-7 Navigator trainer plane disappeared Nov. 18, 1942. Pilot Lt. William Gamber, and aviation Cadets John Melvin Mortensen and Ernest Glenn Munn, all were in their 20s when they vanished. Though some plane wreckage was found in 1947, the disappearance has haunted their families.

They include mothers and fathers who'd lost their only son and died before knowing what happened; sisters now in their 80s with vivid memories of the brother who never returned; nieces and nephews who were babies when the plane disappeared, their uncle a smiling stranger behind the scrim of their imagination.

'Special gift'

The Mustonens, at least, have their answer.

"It was a special gift to us, not just having him to bury but to learn finally who he really was," said Leane Mustonen Ross of Jacksonville, Fla. Now 62, she hadn't been born when her uncle Leo's plane went down. The discovery of his body gave her the uncle she never knew.

And it was that old tell-tale grin that did the trick. "The first thing they asked us was 'Did your uncle have a gap between his front teeth?' and I said yes. I had a photo that showed it and they had his teeth. Those teeth were the real giveaway."

Friends and family say Mustonen's mother died broken-hearted, never coming to grips with her loss. Marjorie Freeman, 84 and still living near Mustonen's hometown of Brainerd, Minn., vividly remembers her own mother sharing coffee each morning with the missing airman's mom at her Maple Street home.

"It was always the same," Freeman said. "She'd end up in tears. My mom would reach out across the breakfast table and hold her hands and Mrs. Mustonen kept repeating the same thing: 'Oh my poor Leo. If only they could find him and bring him home.' "

Mustonen's mom died years ago, but finding her son's remains has at least brought comfort to those few relatives still around to welcome him home.

"I feel close to him now, as if he'd been a brother," his niece Leane said. "He'd always been cloaked in mystery. Finding him on that mountain made him real."

Just as relatives in 2005 endured the emotional whiplash, the other three families must now go through it all over again.

And only one can get the answer they're longing to hear.

Munn family

Glenn Munn's younger sister Jeanne Pyle, now 87, got the call last month from a reporter in California.

"I thought, 'Oh my, we're going to go through all of this again.' " Still living near the small Ohio farming town where the Munns grew up, Pyle was certain her brother was the man they found in 2005.

"Two years ago, we had so many people coming by - radio stations from Columbus and Steubenville; even CNN flew in from California," she said. "Glenn had blond hair and the one they found encased in ice had blond hair, so we thought for sure it was him."

Once again, the memories are rushing back - the little farm where their dad raised cattle and their mom made cream and butter, the peaches and berries she and Glenn would pick. "The kids all played together, worked together; we were very close and looked out for one another."
Then just like that, it was over.

"Somebody talked Glenn into joining the service in 1942," Pyle said. "He was just a kid, 22, but he was so excited to be going to California. He'd never even been on a plane before, but he wrote mother the most beautiful letters, telling her how excited he was to be learning how to fly."
First came the call that his plane was missing, then word that the search had been called off.

"Mother was heartbroken," Pyle said. "She kept praying he'd turn up alive. She lived to be 102, and she never got through talking about her son, how handsome he was, how proud they were of their first child."

Worst of all, Pyle said, was the not knowing. "Losing a child is terrible enough, but she never knew where he was, and that just leaves a space inside you that you never get over."

Gamber family

Bill Gamber in his youth had been a hero to his younger cousin Dick Christian. Always bigger than life, Gamber in his absence seemed to loom larger still. For Christian, now 82 and a retired associate dean at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, the missing cousin was never really far away.

"I'd see some handsome guy who could do everything - straight A's, great athlete - and I'd say, 'There's a guy like Bill Gamber.' He was a guy with an unlimited future; he was smart and articulate and 6-foot-3, and it all just ended. You'd think, boy, what that guy could have done with his life."

Bill Ralston, a musician and retired educator in Cincinnati, was born three years after Gamber's plane went down, but he was named after his uncle and inherited Gamber's beloved silver-plated King trombone, the instrument that inspired Ralston's own musical career.

"Growing up in the little town of Fayette, Ohio, Bill was the All-American boy, captain of the basketball team and a great trombone player," he said. "These were the war years, and my uncle was a symbol of that era. Losing Bill, that whole town was devastated."

Mortensen family

There's hardly anyone left to mourn John Mortensen. With two of his sisters deceased and the third nearly 100 years old with round-the-clock care, it's time once again for his niece Carol Benson to do what she'd rather not do - answer the telephone calls from reporters, fill in what little she knows about her long-lost uncle.

Now 69 and a retired schoolteacher in Ogden, Utah, Benson had lived as a child in Moscow, Idaho, where her uncle was born and raised. She recalls Mortensen being described "as a very compassionate person," but she remembers little else, saying family members were never big on broadcasting their feelings.

"We lived on a farm, and in those years, recovering from the Depression, you didn't have the sort of communication you have nowadays with relatives," she said, "so our families didn't spend a lot of time together."

As a child, Benson was given few details about the plane's disappearance. "I was told he was on a mission and that they didn't return. I remember my mom talking about it when they found the wreckage in 1947. But from then on, they were pretty quiet people who kept things to themselves. I guess everyone has their own way of dealing with loss."

Back in 2005, Benson and her husband, a retired engineer, "didn't want to get involved because we don't like to be in the news; we're a family that doesn't like to talk."

Hope, though, is a hard thing to smother, and "when they did narrow it down to my uncle and Mustonen because they were the same height and (had the same) hair color, then you really start hoping it would be yours."
But it wasn't. So "this time, we don't want to go through that again. We're not going to say anything else until they identify him."

That could still take weeks, largely because investigators are meticulous as they go over the biological, DNA and physical evidence. Though they declined last week to talk about their progress, they did say that having DNA samples from the relatives on the mothers' side of the three remaining airmen will help solve this case much faster.

In 2005, it took them weeks to locate relatives, then obtain samples. And they never did get a sample from Mustonen's family because all the candidates on his mother's side were already dead. Instead, Mustonen was identified by process of elimination.

Asked whether the discovery of a second airman, whose remains were apparently exposed as the glacier receded, increases the likelihood of finding the other two men, forensic anthropologist Paul Emanovsky was guarded.

"You never know what to expect in this job," Emanovsky said. He and his colleagues travel the world recovering remains of service members; 78,000 service members from World War II alone are still missing. "We don't really know the circumstances of this crash. It's possible the other two guys are on the other side of the glacier, a thousand feet away. I suspect they're up there somewhere, but it's hard to know."

Leo Mustonen's niece in Jacksonville knows both the anguish of waiting and the joy of knowing.

"There's a reason this is happening," Ross said. "I think it's a kind of message to everyone who has lost loved ones and never recovered them that there's always room for hope."

Until the remains are identified, though, the three remaining airmen remain frozen in time, in graveyard memorials, and in the distant laughter of the boy on the mahogany staircase in the old Gamber house, or the teenager scaling apple trees in the Munn family orchard, or the Mortensens' young aspiring pilot, heading off forever into the wild blue yonder.

Contact Patrick May at pmay@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5689.
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Postby Skibum » Wed Sep 26, 2007 11:29 am

Hi Peter,

I took photos of the manifold's manufacturer's plate. It Had serial #'s, manufacture date, order #'s etc., Did you see that? Pretty amazing to get in close on that engine and still smell the oil and grease.

We conducted a pretty thorough grid search of the entire bowl area from just below the bergschrund and down to the bottom. There are bits and pieces of aircraft from top to bottom and wall to wall. The aircraft must have hit the head wall going VERY fast. Besides that engine, the largest piece I found was a square panel about 3'x3' and the tip of either a wing or stabalizer.

I was very amazed on how much the glacier had retreated in the two years since the first airman we recovered. As well as Darwin around the corner. Not much left.

Feel free to PM me, or call me at the Grant Grove Ranger Station.

559 565-4336

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Postby Skibum » Wed Sep 26, 2007 11:41 am

Peter,

Just checked out your site. Great job. Thanks for posting your link. I was a little reluctant to post pics of my investigation as they were a tad more graphic. I think the pics you've got up are appropriate.

Talk with you soon,

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Postby Snow Nymph » Wed Sep 26, 2007 10:45 pm

Thanks Peter, Greg and Jim! :D
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


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