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Colony Glacier

Joint team unearths lost servicemembers

Recovery team members traverse Colony Glacier, Alaska, June 6, searching for remains from a C-124 Globemaster II from McChord Field that crashed into Gannett Mountain, Alaska, Nov. 22, 1952, resulting in the loss of 52 servicemembers. Courtesy photo

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Airmen, soldiers, sailors and contractors came together in June to search for additional remains from a crash that happened nearly 70 years earlier.

On Nov. 22, 1952, a C-124 Globemaster II taking off from McChord Field, which had 52 passengers and crewmembers aboard, crashed into Mount Gannett while flying to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. At the time of the crash, weather conditions prevented an immediate recovery with later search attempts unable to locate the crash site.

In 2012, an Alaska National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk crew spotted the aircraft wreckage on Colony Glacier while conducting a training mission in the area. Recovery operations were conducted in late June and confirmed it was the missing C-124 crash site.

Every summer, the Alaskan Command, AKNG personnel, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations and Armed Forces Medical Examiner System personnel have supported Operation Colony Glacier. Ongoing efforts have helped to identify 40 of the 52 servicemembers.

"Based off the weather and the glacier itself, June has been the optimal time frame," said Air Force Capt. Brian Scallion, AFMAO operations support division chief. "Prior to June, it's still covered in snow and you're not going to be able to see remains. After the end of June, with the way the glacier melts and shifts, there are huge crevasses that make it unsafe and a lot of melting, so June has been that sweet spot."

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, provided a mountaineer team to help safely move the recovery team up and down the glacier.

"We helped aid in moving up and down the glacier, traversing crevasses and the overall safety of personnel on the ice," said Army Staff Sgt. Kyle Ward, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, Blackfoot Company weapons squad leader and senior level mountaineer. "Once we deemed a path safe, we would move that direction to recover as much as we possibly could."

Airmen from the 3rd Maintenance Squadron Aero Repair Crash, Damaged or Disabled Aircraft Team, were also part of the recovery team.

"It's part of our responsibility, but, it's more meaningful than that," said Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Johnson, 3rd Maintenance Squadron Aero Repair flight chief. "It gives us a perspective for who we are and what we stand for, and the team feels the same. Knowing there's someone else they're helping is what motivates them."

Once the recovery team had finished up for the year, the remains were brought back to the 673rd Medical Group at JBER where Armed Forces Medical Examiner System personnel conducted an inventory of the remains. A dignified carry and dignified departure for the remains was then conducted by the JBER Honor Guard and 673rd MDG personnel before being escorted to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, where AFMES could begin the process of identifying the remains.

Scallion has seen this mission from many different roles. From being on the recovery team, to being part of an escort for one of the fallen to even being the officer in charge of a funeral detail for one of the members on the C-124.

"It has been an honor to be a part of this mission," said Scallion. "I have been able to see every side of it. It's an honor to see families and cities are still remembering this individual and they are not forgotten, and it's something to give back to the families after such a long time."

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