DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. —
On Nov. 22, 1952, a C-124 Globemaster II departed from McChord Air Force Base, Washington, headed for Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, carrying 52 service members. That flight would never reach its destination. The aircraft crashed on Colony Glacier, on the side of Mount Gannett, east of Anchorage. Search and rescue teams discovered the crash site shortly after, but due to the location and weather, recovery efforts were not possible.
In 2012, the crash site was rediscovered, and every summer since, a joint recovery team, led by Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations at Dover Air Force Base, has ventured onto Colony Glacier to recover the remains and material exposed as the glacier naturally melts.
For the first time since recovery operations began, an aircrew from Dover AFB flew the remains from Alaska back to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at Dover for identification.
“We transported two transfer cases from Dover to Alaska, where they were loaded and flown back to Dover with the Colony Glacier recovery crew,” said Capt. Kyle Evans, 3rd Airlift Squadron pilot.
The Dover crew and the crew of the C-124 shared a unique bond that made the trip even more humbling for Evans.
“The fact that we were transporting a crew from the C-124, which is named the Globemaster II, to bring a crew at Dover on the C-17 Globemaster III made it a humbling experience,” said Evans. “We brought home brothers- and sisters-in-arms and fellow aviators, which truly made this special and something I’ll never forget.”
Recovery operations remain a solemn job that are handled with extreme care by all involved. Capt. Shelby Yoakum, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Readiness and Plans chief and ground forces commander for Operation Colony Glacier, led this year’s recovery efforts.
"This just goes to show that, as a country, we are not going to leave someone behind, regardless of how long ago they perished,” said Yoakum. “And just knowing that there are still families out there, waiting for the return of their loved ones that haven’t seen them since some day in 1952, it is important to bring that closure and do everything we can to return their loved ones.”
To date, the remains of 43 of the 52 service members have been identified. Yoakum is hopeful that the remains found in the ice will bring them one step closer to successfully identifying the remains of the final nine service members.