Two World War II Airman are Found in the Mendel Glacier, Sierra Nevada (updated 12/29/07)

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First Airman's Body Found in the Mendel Glacier--October 2005

Second Airman's Body Found in the Mendel Glacier--August 15, 2007

Coroner's office begins to thaw airman's body
By Judy Lin and Lesli A. Maxwell -- Bee Staff Writers--October 20, 2005 Sacramento Bee

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK -- The Fresno County Coroner's office on Thursday began thawing the remains of what officials believe to be a World War II military airman who was based at Mather Field in Sacramento. The man was believed to be lost during a crash in 1942 on the Sierra Nevada's Mount Mendel in Kings Canyon National Park.

A seven-member excavation crew spent 10 hours Wednesday night digging up the frozen body found by two hikers in the northern end of Kings Canyon National Park. They found a blond male hunched over a rock with a broken right arm protruding from glacier ice. The man was dressed in WWII-era clothing, which rescuers described as a wool sweater and a cotton canvas flight suit.

"Basically, it was a mummy, a mummified body frozen in ice." said park ranger Jim Gould, one of the rangers involved in the excavation. "He had facial features and hair, but the skin was like leather." Gould said the body may have had a severed leg, but rescuers couldn't tell because of the position of the body.

Park spokeswoman Jody Lyle said the crew airlifted a 400-pound block of ice containing the body to Fresno late Wednesday night, where the coroner was to begin the process of identifying the man and tracking down surviving relatives. The extraction crew spent the night on the mountain, where temperatures dipped to 15 degrees.

Dr. Robert Johnson, chief of the archives branch at the United States Air Force Historical Research Agency, housed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, said a 1942 accident report said the Army Air Force AT-7 took off from Mather Field at 8:30 a.m. Nov., 18, 1942. Pilot William A. Gamber, 23, of Payette, Ohio, and three training cadets were aboard, Johnson said. The plane, with five hours worth of fuel, was supposed to fly north to Corning and return, Johnson said.

Cadets were John Mortenson, 25, from Moscow, Idaho, Ernest Munn, 23, from St. Clairesville, Ohio, and Leo Mustonen, 22, from Brainerd, Minn.

The air corps launched a massive search of the area in which they thought the plane had crashed, Johnson said, reading from the report. The search was called off after more than a month of combing the area by air and ground teams.

Five years later, after a hiker in the remote northeast corner of Kings Canyon discovered wreckage, the military launched another search. No remains were recovered at that time, according to the 1947 report, Johnson said. Searchers, however, found the engine tag for the AT-7 and a name tag for one of the cadets, Johnson said.

The cause of the accident was never determined, Johnson said, but both reports speculated that weather conditions may have been the cause.

Word of the find spread quickly through the national park. At John Muir Lodge, front desk worker Amanda Moreno said so many visitors were asking for information that she printed out a news story to post at the front desk. "It is exciting. Everybody wants to know about it.," Moreno said. "Hopefully, they'll find out who he is and contact his family."

The discovery was a first for many of the veteran rescuers. Gould and fellow ranger Chris Waldschmidt said the team followed instructions from a park archeologist to dig out the three-feet by four-feet block of ice that entombed the airman.

"We didn't want to disturb anything. We just wanted to get a removable block," Waldschmidt said.

Photo below left: A portion of the Darwin Glacier is visible in the left portion of the photo. Mount Mendel is in the center of the photo and the Mendel Glacier, where the body was found, is on the right. Mount Mendel is one of the highest peaks in the Sierra Nevada at 13,710 feet. Mount Darwin, its next door neighbor out of sight on the left, is 13,831 feet. Mount Mendel is on the northern border of Kings Canyon National Park west-southwest of Bishop on Highway 395, north of Cedar Grove and Roads End in Kings Canyon National Park, and east-northeast of Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley.


Officials work to thaw mystery of frozen man
By Judy Lin and Lesli A. Maxwell -- Bee Staff Writers--10/21/05 Sacramento Bee

FRESNO - Running water over a 400-pound block of ice, Fresno County coroner's officials on Thursday began the painstaking process of thawing what may be a World War II airman whose plane crashed in the Sierra Nevada after taking off from Mather Field in 1942.

Military officials believe the glacier-bound man, discovered Sunday by a pair of hikers on Mount Mendel in Kings Canyon National Park, may have been lost during a crash of an Army AT-7 on November 18, 1942. That flight, with four men aboard, departed Mather Field on what was supposed to be a routine training exercise, according to an Air Force historian.

In Fresno, where coroner's officials said thawing would take several more days, an anthropologist with the military's Joint Prisoner of War Accounting Command had arrived to help with the identification process.

No dog tags or other identification have been found on the body so far, officials said.

Once thawing is complete, the body will be flown to JPAC's lab in Hawaii, where staff will do a thorough identification process using dental records and DNA testing, said U.S. Army Maj. Rumi Nielson-Green, a JPAC spokeswoman. Military historians have drawn up a short list of individuals who could be the man, Nielson-Green said. The list is based on names of missing military personnel connected to any of the 25 to 30 airplanes lost in California during World War II, she said.

"There have already been family members who've contacted us to say they have a relative unaccounted for in that area," she said.

Hundreds of air cadets passed through Mather in 1942 as the U.S. Army scrambled to build its military and train air crews after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor and the nation's increasing involvement in the war in Europe. Mather Field saw the number of pilot and navigation cadets quadruple in the first six months of 1942.

On Wednesday, a seven-member excavation crew spent 10 hours digging up the frozen body in the rugged northeast edge of Kings Canyon National Park. The ice climbers found the blond male hunched over a rock with a broken right arm protruding from glacier ice. The man was dressed in WWII-era clothing, which rescuers described as a wool sweater and a cotton canvas flight suit. Excavators clipped a patch off a silk parachute that helped establish the time frame.

"Basically, it was a mummy, a mummified body frozen in ice," said Jim Gould, one of the park rangers involved in the excavation. "He had facial features and hair, but the skin was like leather." Gould said the body may have had a severed leg, but rescuers couldn't tell for sure because of the position of the body.

Kings Canyon spokeswoman Jody Lyle said the crew flew the block of ice containing the body to Fresno on Wednesday night. The extraction crew spent the night on the mountain, where temperatures dipped to 15 degrees.

Dr. Robert Johnson, an Air Force historian, said a 1942 accident report shows the Army AT-7 took off from Mather at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 18. Pilot William Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio, and three training cadets were aboard, said Johnson, chief of the archives branch at the U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency housed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.

The plane, loaded with enough fuel to last five hours, was supposed to fly north to Corning and return, Johnson said. The report listed the training cadets as John Mortenson, 25, from Moscow, Idaho; Ernest Munn, 23, from St. Clairsville, Ohio; and Leo Mustonen, 22, from Brainerd, Minn.

When the plane didn't return, Mather officials launched a massive search of the area, Johnson said, reading from the report. The search continued for nearly a month with aerial and ground search parties from Chico, Stockton, Merced and Lemoore, he said. It was called off December 14.

Five years later, a Sierra Club hiker discovered the plane's wreckage in the remote northeast corner of Kings Canyon, prompting another military search. Though no remains were recovered at the time, searchers found the engine tag for the AT-7 and a name tag for one of the cadets, according to the Air Force's 1947 report, Johnson said. The cause of the accident was never determined, Johnson said, but both reports speculated weather conditions may have been the cause.

Whether the ice-encased man discovered this week was part of that crew is impossible to know until experts complete the identification process. According to the 1942 accident report, only Gamber, Munn, Mortenson and Mustonen were aboard, Johnson said.

In September 1948, a group of searchers successfully recovered their four bodies, according to a Fresno Bee story at the time.

"There was a lot of training that took place all up and down California," Johnson said. "This (body) could have been part of another air crew that exited another plane at another time." Johnson also said it would be unlikely that a body would have remained intact after the AT-7 crashed into a mountain.

Word of the find spread quickly through Kings Canyon Thursday. At John Muir Lodge, front desk worker Amanda Moreno said so many visitors were asking for information that she printed out a news story to post at the front desk.

The discovery was a first for many of the veteran rescuers. Gould and fellow ranger Chris Waldschmidt said the team followed instructions from a park archeologist to dig out the 3-foot-by-4-foot block of ice that entombed the body. "We didn't want to disturb anything. We just wanted to get a removable block," Waldschmidt said.

ABOUT THE WRITERS: The Bee's Judy Lin can be reached at (916) 321-1115 or jlin@sacbee.com. Lin reported from Kings Canyon and Fresno. Maxwell reported from Sacramento. Bee researcher Becky Boyd contributed to this report.

World War II mystery stirs hope for family
By M.S. Enkoji--Bee Staff Writer--10/26/05--Sacramento Bee

Sadie Munn boarded a train and headed to Sacramento in 1942 for a memorial service for her firstborn child, a military airman who had crashed high in the Sierra Nevada. She was hoping for answers: Why did he die? When will they find his body? Every year after, she said her son's name aloud on his birthday, Jan. 18, and again, on Nov. 18, the day he went missing. She died in 2000, at 102 years old. She never found her answers.

Her daughters now believe the body of their rangy, blond-haired brother, 23-year-old Army Cadet Ernest Munn, is the one found by hikers on Oct. 16 embedded in ice in Kings Canyon National Park. Ernest Munn had been stationed at what was then Mather Field for a year before he went on a training exercise in an Army AT-7 with three others aboard, according to a military historian. The plane was supposed to head north to Corning and then return, but it never showed up. Searchers combed the mountains for a month before giving up.

"I'm just holding on that it will be him," said Ernest Munn's sister, Sarah Zeyer of Saint Clairsville, Ohio. "I'm just overjoyed."

No one official has contacted the family, but Zeyer, 83, and her two sisters, Jeanne Pyle, 85, and Lois Shriver, 81, have pieced together what they know and what they've heard about the hikers' discovery. "When they said he had blond hair and he was rather tall. ... I'm holding on to that," she said Tuesday. "He would have been 87 right now," said Zeyer, talking from her home by telephone.

The hikers found the body embedded in ice on Mount Mendel, garbed in a wool sweater and a cotton canvas flight suit.

The body arrived Monday at the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, home of the world's largest forensic anthropology laboratory. The Accounting Command is responsible for recovering or identifying any prisoners of war or people missing in action from all military branches.

Forensic anthropologists there said they have a lot to work with: skin and muscle, hair and uniform. They also will examine a pen, small notebook, comb and coins from inside the airman's Army uniform and a badly corroded name badge, all recovered by a search team.

They cautioned that the airman might not be blond at all and that his hair could have been discolored by the sun.

Though the body was partially preserved, identification could take weeks, even months, said Army Maj. Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for JPAC.

The military is working from a short list of names and is ordering dental records, she said.

Others on the flight were John Mortenson, 25, from Moscow, Idaho; Leo Mustonen, 22, from Brainerd, Minn.; and pilot William Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio.

A 1948 Fresno Bee story that a group of searchers recovered their bodies proved to be mistaken.

Relatives of other missing soldiers have also contacted the military about the body, Nielson-Green said.

The teeth, which would not have been X-rayed in that era, were probably charted, she said, and do show identifying characteristics. If dental records don't suffice, DNA analysis will be used, the military spokeswoman said.

She could not say whether the command would pursue a wider search for other bodies if this one is connected to the 1942 crash.

Ernest Munn grew up in Saint Clairsville and did well in school, his sister said. He crossed the river to nearby Wheeling, W.Va., to take a job in finance, which is where his family thought he would stay. But he met up with other young men itching to go to war. He told his family he was enlisting, too.

"We hated to see him go, but he had made up his mind," Zeyer said. He had a girlfriend he intended to marry, but not just yet. He wouldn't marry her and leave her behind. So for one last big dinner, the family gathered to say goodbye.

He wrote home from Mather, talking about California. "It was all new to him," said Zeyer.

After the crash, his mother traveled to California with a relative because his father was ill. An engraved stone was dedicated to the missing men.

Zeyer's father traveled to California in 1947 when the plane's wreckage was found by hikers and another search ensued. But no bodies were recovered.

Ernest Munn's parents could never understand why no one could find their son, Zeyer said.

They are buried in the tiny town where they raised their son. There's a place next to them waiting for the son they wanted so much to put to rest.

"We're going to finally have a ceremony," said Zeyer. "We want to bring him home."

ABOUT THE WRITER: The Bee's M.S. Enkoji can be reached at (916)321-1106 or menkoji@sacbee.com.

Riddle of the frozen airman: Friends recall two cadets who may be WWII crash victim
By M.S. Enkoji--Bee Staff Writer--10/27/05 Sacramento Bee

Friends and relatives of a missing flight crew that crashed in the Sierra Nevada 63 years ago continued Wednesday to speculate about a frozen body discovered last week and undergoing military identification. Hikers found the body embedded in a glacier in Kings Canyon National Park on Oct. 16. Still intact with a flight uniform, but no dog tags, the body is now at a military base in Hawaii, where scientists will run tests to identify it.

The body is believed to be one of a four-man Army crew that took off in a Beech AT-7 from what was then Mather Field in November 1942. The plane, bound for Corning on a training mission, never returned. Shreds of the plane were found by a hiker five years later, but none of the bodies.

It could be months before a positive identification is determined through dental records or even DNA testing. At Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, a spokeswoman for the Joint Pow-MIA Accounting Command has said that relatives of several missing-in-action airmen have called to inquire about the body.

A former family friend of a Brainerd, Minn., man who died in the crash said the scant description seems to match 22-year-old Leo Mustonen. "He was very nice-looking, a slender fellow with light hair who was very particular about his dress," said Marjorie Freeman, who lived near the Mustonens.

The body, partially preserved, appeared to have a shock of light hair, but military officials said the hair could be sun-bleached.

Mustonen was attending the University of Minnesota in September 1941 when he joined the Army. "I think he did it because he had always been interested in flying," Freeman said. "And he would have made it. He was very intelligent."

If it is Mustonen, he won't have close family to claim his body, Freeman said. Mustonen's brother died years ago and so did his parents, she said. Freeman belongs to a local group that decorates his parents' graves in Brainerd on Memorial Day. "I think they would be pleased to have him found," she said.

Others on the plane were the pilot, Lt. William Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio; Ernest Munn, 23, of St. Clairsville, Ohio; and John Mortenson, 25, of Moscow, Idaho. Mortenson's dog tags were found along with the plane parts in 1947.

Surviving sisters of Munn have also said they believe the body could be their tall, golden-haired brother. A former Army airman, William Elias, who lives just north of Sacramento, is also hoping his long-time friend has been found.

William Elias of Arden recalls Ernest Munn, who might be the airman whose body was found recently in the Sierra Nevada. They trained together and Elias met Munn's mother when she sought word of her missing son. Elias, 89, remembers meeting Munn in Wheeling, W.Va. across the river from where the two grew up in Belmont County, Ohio. "He was tall and handsome, handsome, handsome. He would have been a movie star," Elias said.

As World War II heated up, he remembers meeting Munn, who was two years younger, in a drugstore where Elias worked in Wheeling. Elias had heard of a military program that offered six months of training in place of a college degree to fly for the Army. "A lot of guys wanted to go with me," he said. Word got around and Munn came into the drugstore to ask Elias about joining the Army flying corps, he said. Munn was studying finance at the time.

The two wound up for the first part of their training in Santa Ana, where they shared a tent in January 1942. Munn was studious and shy, less given to the hijinks of the other trainees, Elias said. "He wasn't into that," he said.

At Mather, Elias wasn't even aware that Munn was on the missing plane, but he heard about the search efforts that followed. Munn's mother, Sadie, had come to the base just after the plane disappeared, hoping for answers. She saw a familiar face. "She said, 'Are you Billy Elias?' " he said.

"I couldn't help her. She had an appointment with the commanding officer. I was very uncomfortable because I didn't know what to say to her. I almost felt guilty for being alive," he said.

Elias left the military in 1945 and went to the University of California, Berkeley. During a physical education class, he spotted a newspaper on a bench that featured a story about the recovery of the missing AT-7 plane. It was the last time he thought about his friend. Until some more hikers ventured into the Sierra Nevada.

WWII airman's remains identified
The Associated Press--Saturday, February 4, 2006

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Remains found in the California mountains last fall are those of an airman from Minnesota whose plane went missing during World War II, relatives said Saturday.

The U.S. Department of Defense determined the remains are those of Leo Mustonen, who was 22 when the plane he was in crashed 64 years ago in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the airman's nieces Leane Mustonen Ross and Ona Lea Mustonen told CNN.

Marjorie Freeman, a family friend, told The Associated Press that she spoke with the airman's relatives after they were notified by defense officials earlier this week.

Leane Mustonen Ross, who lives in Florida, did not return phone calls left Saturday. A phone number could not be found for Ona Lea Mustonen.

Last October, authorities recovered a well-preserved body encased in ice in Kings Canyon National Park. Military anthropologists narrowed their options to four men who flew out of Sacramento's Mather Field the night the plane disappeared: Mustonen, of Brainerd, Minn.; pilot William Gamber, 23, of Ohio; and aviation Cadets Ernest Munn, 23, of Ohio; and John Mortenson, 25, of Idaho.

Leo Mustonen joined the war effort in 1942. He was on an AT-7 navigational training plane when it vanished after leaving on a routine flight Nov. 18 that year. Five years later, after an engine, scattered remains and clothing were found far from the plane's intended course, the cadets and the pilot were given a ceremonial burial.

A Second World War II Airman is Found on the Mendel Glacier August 15, 2007
Chronology:
November 1942: AT-7 training flight takes off from Mather Field in Sacramento. The plane crashes on Mount Mendel, killing 2nd Lt. William Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio; and cadets John Mortenson, 25, of Moscow, Idaho; Ernest Munn, 23, of St. Clairesville, Ohio; and Leo Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn.

September 1947: Sierra Club hikers William Bond and Thomas Hodges discover the crash site while on a backpacking trip. Cadet name tag of Mortenson is found. Searchers later fail to find bodies.

October 2005: Ice climbers spot the frozen intact body of a World War II airman in the glacier at Mendel. The body is removed, thawed and sent to the military's laboratory for analysis.

November 2005: Analysts are able to read the name tag found on the body, but they will not release the identity until it is confirmed. Dental records have not helped. They seek DNA samples from the families of the four airmen.

February 2006: Military officials in Hawaii identify Leo Mustonen as the airman whose remains were found on the glacier.

August 15, 2007: A second airman's body is found as well as a parachute of a World War II-era aviator whose plane crashed on a glacier at 12,000 feet in the Sierra was discovered at the site.

Aug. 20, 2007: National Park Service retrieves remains from the Mount Mendel Glacier, about 100 feet from where Mustonen's remains were found.

World War II aviator found frozen:
Body is believed to be another member of training flight that crashed into a Sierra mountainside
By James Guy and Marc Benjamin--The Fresno Bee--August 21, 2007

Authorities said Monday that a body found on a remote Sierra Nevada mountainside likely is that of a flier who died in a military plane crash 65 years ago. The body was discovered within 100 feet of where Leo Mustonen, a 22-year-old Army Air Force cadet, was found two years ago, Sequoia and Kings Canyon park ranger Debbie Brenchley said. Mustonen was aboard an AT-7 aircraft that crashed on a training mission in November 1942.

Peter Stekel, an author writing a book about the crash, discovered the body Wednesday while doing research in the Mt. Mendel area in Kings Canyon National Park, Brenchley said. Stekel hiked out Thursday and arrived at a ranger station on Friday to report the discovery. Rangers flew by helicopter to the area Saturday to confirm the find, and flew there again Sunday to begin making arrangements to get the remains off the mountain. The body was being brought to the Fresno County Coroner's Office Monday for an initial examination and then will be taken to Hawaii for identification by military officials.

Chief Park Ranger J.D. Swed said there are indications the remains are from the same plane that carried Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn. He didn't elaborate.

Mustonen was one of four military aviators on an AT-7 training flight from Mather Field in Sacramento that strayed off course on Nov. 18, 1942. A blizzard is believed to have been the cause of the crash on the 13,691-foot Sierra Nevada peak, according to weather reports. The crash site was not known, until two years ago. When the crash occurred, the training flight was about 200 miles off course.

Others on the 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.

Brenchley said the body was found in a rocky area at 12,300 feet of elevation. To get to the area requires hiking more than 25 to 30 miles.

Unlike Mustonen's body, it was not encased in ice. Brenchley said the head, torso and most of the arms were visible. A parachute was found near the body. It did not appear that the man had tried to open the parachute, she said.

The body was likely hidden by snow when searchers were nearby in 2005, she said. This year's snowpack was only 29% of normal.

In a conference call, the command's deputy scientific director Robert Mann said identification may take several months. Paul Emanovsky, a forensic anthropologist, was flying from Hawaii to recover the body. Emanovsky worked in the 2005 investigation.

The identity of the body will be established through an examination of mitochondrial DNA obtained from family members of those on the 1942 flight, Mann said, since there are no dental records available from the flight members. Hadden said such an effort is beyond the ability of a county coroner's office.

The flight was one of several dozen air crashes during World War II training missions. Many of those aircraft are still missing in the 400-mile long Sierra.

Fresno County Coroner David Hadden said the World War II-era crash appeared to be like many that take place in the Sierra when a plane flies into a bowl-like area and then does not have enough power to pull out. "It's like driving into a dead end," he said.

Mount Mendel is a remote area well-known by ice climbers. Mendel glacier is about a half-mile wide.

There are about 1,500 small glaciers between Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Yosemite national parks, the southernmost belt of glaciers in the United States. Scientists say the Sierra glaciers are small and relatively young, about 600 to 800 years old.

The reporters may be reached at jguy@fresnobee.com

Airman's body stirs hope, tragic memories
By Marc Benjamin--Fresno Bee--August 22, 2007

Family members of the three World War II airman lost on a training mission over the Sierra say the discovery of one airman's remains has reopened sad memories but resurrected hope that their loved one can finally rest in peace.

Pathologists began examining the mummified remains Tuesday afternoon, a day after the airman's weathered body was removed from a Kings Canyon National Park glacier. As they picked through the airman's possessions, pathologists found a 1940 Buffalo-head nickel and 1923 dime. A wallet found near the body is so brittle it will be left to Army anthropologists in Hawaii to open in a more controlled environment. The airman also was wearing a gold ring with a square black onyx, said Fresno County Coroner Dr. David Hadden.

Despite these clues, a U.S. Army pathologist said it could take weeks or months to confirm the airman's identity.

The remains were found last week less than 100 feet from those of another airman, Leo Mustonen of Brainerd, Minn., who was discovered in 2005 at 12,300 feet on Mount Mendel. Both men are believed to have been on a plane lost on a training mission in 1942. Two other men also were on the flight. Their bodies have yet to be located.

Mustonen's remains were found by ice climbers who were traversing the Mount Mendel glacier. Author Peter Stekel, who is writing a book about the ill-fated training mission, found the remains of the second airman last week. Unlike Mustonen's body, this latest set of remains was not encased in ice.

After Mustonen's body was found, family members provided DNA samples that could help identify any of the three remaining victims: 2nd Lt. William Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio; John Mortensen, 25, of Moscow, Idaho; and Ernest Glenn Munn, 23, of Saint Clairsville, Ohio.

Barbara Adams said she hoped the body discovered last week was her cousin, Gamber, who was the pilot on the training flight. The three other men were cadets. "Any family that has one of them wants it to be their loved one," she said.

Gamber, she said, was eight years older than she was and was a hero in his small hometown, just south of the Michigan state line. "He was a wonderful basketball player and athlete," Adams said from her Northern California home. Gamber was the second family member killed during World War II, she said. Another cousin, also a pilot, was killed over England. Gamber's death compounded the first loss, she said.

"I remember my parents and mother, particularly, were very upset," she said.

A man who answered the phone at the Utah home of Carol Benson, Mortensen's niece, said the family wants to wait to comment until DNA is matched. "They've got everything they need, so there is no sense even speculating," said the man, who declined to identify himself.

Lois Shriver, Munn's sister, said she was hoping the body could be her brother, the oldest of four children. He was the only son. "He was a good farm kid," said Shriver, who was four years younger than her brother. "He was my idol." She said she saw the story of the latest find on CNN on Tuesday morning.

"It's nerve-wracking," she said from her home in Pittsburgh. "It's brought back a lot of memories after 60-some years and you don't want to forget. ... It brings a lot of sadness back." Added Shriver: "We never really got over it. Not knowing what happened was the worst thing."

Pathologists said the latest airman found in the Sierra had a good set of teeth, but no dental records are available to identify him. Hadden described the man's skin as having a "parchment texture" similar to being mummified. The man's tousled brownish-blond hair could be the result of sun exposure, Hadden said. The airman's right leg was missing, and only a 14-inch section of the left leg was attached to the body, Hadden said.

Paul Emanovsky, a forensic anthropologist with the Army's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, said these remains look "exactly like the Mustonen case," both in the damage to the body and in the clothing the second airman was wearing. "He was wearing the same kind of sweater and woolen shirt, but it was fragmentary," Emanovsky said.

The wallet, he said, was discovered near the body and may not be from the second airman. There are papers inside the wallet. "We are not going to open it up until we get back to Hawaii, so analysis can be done more carefully," Emanovsky said. A spectroanalyzer will be used to examine the contents. "It can bring out some things you can't see with the naked eye," Emanovsky said.

A bone or tooth sample will be sent to Maryland for further analysis in confirming the airman's identity. "One of the things that is going to expedite this case is that we have family records on file," he said.

The reporter can be reached at mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6166.

Remains found on glacier
Mummified body may be that of World War II aviator from Idaho
By Bill Morlin--SpokesmanReview.com--August 25, 2007


Members of a National Park Service rescue team carefully remove the parachute to protect evidence. Photo: National Park Service.

At the 13,600-foot level of Evolution Basin in California's rugged Sierra Nevada, a Seattle author just helped write another chapter in a 65-year-old World War II mystery tied to Moscow, Idaho. Eight days ago, author Peter Stekel notified the National Park Service that he'd found a mummified body on Mendel Glacier. His surprise discovery came after he spent several days hiking into the remote, high-mountain area to research his forthcoming book on four World War II airmen who disappeared on Nov. 18, 1942, when their AT-7 Navigator crashed in a snowstorm near the California-Nevada border. Their bodies and most of the aircraft wreckage became encased in the Mendel Glacier, and only fragments of evidence were recovered immediately after the crash.

Stekel became part of the book he's writing because severe drought conditions are shrinking the glacier. Now, the Seattle author, who's still in the backcountry and unavailable for comment, is likely eager to know the identity of the body he discovered.

John M. Mortenson, 25, of Moscow, and Ernest G. Munn, 23, of Clairsville, Ohio, were two of three U.S. Army Air Forces aviation cadets aboard the training plane piloted by 2nd Lt. William A. Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio. The body found by Stekel is believed to be one of those three men, according to the National Park Service and military forensic experts.

The remains, including an unopened Army parachute, were recovered from the glacier on Monday by helicopter, three days after the author hiked to a remote ranger station and reported the discovery on Aug. 18, said Deb Schweizer, National Park Service public information officer, who is stationed at Kings Canyon National Park.

Before the removal, a park service anthropologist photographed and documented the scene. The area was searched for further evidence without results.

No positive identification was made this week during a preliminary examination by the Fresco County coroner before the body was turned over to U.S. military forensic experts. The initial exam turned up a 1923 buffalo head nickel, a decaying wallet with faded photographs and an ice-preserved Army Air Forces uniform of World War II vintage, authorities said.

The remains are scheduled to be flown today from Travis Air Force Base in California to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command's forensic laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base in Oahu, Hawaii. Identification of the body is expected to take a month or two, said Troy Kitch, deputy director of public affairs at JPAC, the world's largest forensic identification lab.

Military forensic anthropologists will attempt to obtain a DNA sample from the corpse and send that sample to the Armed Force's DNA laboratory in Maryland where its unique coding profile will be developed. That DNA profile will then be returned to the JPAC Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii for the comparison analysis.

Military experts who travel the world recovering and identifying U.S. war casualties are hopeful because of the condition of the body that a good DNA sample will be obtained, Kitch said.

Mortenson, whose birth name was Melvin J. Mortenson, was the son of John and Ida Mortenson, who lived at 824 E. Seventh in Moscow, according to files compiled by the Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both his parents died and were buried in the Moscow City Cemetery before Mortenson enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces, hoping to become an aviator, using the name John M. Mortenson. He had two sisters who moved to Seattle and never married after he disappeared. A plaque honoring "Melvin Mortenson" and other Moscow soldiers killed during World War II hangs in Moscow High School.

Stekel was researching his forthcoming book, "Final Flight," about the 2005 discovery of the first body found by two ice climbers, just 100 feet away, and later positively identified as that of aviation cadet Leo A. Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn.

After that discovery, military researchers obtained mitochondrial DNA samples from living relatives of Mortenson, Munn and Gamber, Kitch said. David Berry, a forensic historian in Dayton, Ohio, who does consulting work for the military, said Friday it took him three days to locate Mortenson's 95-year-old sister, his only living survivor, who provided a DNA sample. It couldn't be determined Friday if that sister, who lives in Washington, is still alive.

Mustonen had no living survivors, and his identity was determined through the process of elimination and microscopic examination of a unique name tag aviation cadets wore.

With those DNA samples from 2005 already in the data base at the JPAC forensic lab, it should be easier to determine if the latest body is, in fact, one of the four missing airmen.

The twin-engine training aircraft carrying the four men took off from Sacramento and apparently was well off course when it crashed into the towering Sierra Nevada range on the California-Nevada border, east of Fresno, according to military historians. None of the bodies were found immediately after the crash, and the wreckage wasn't located until 1947, Schweizer, said Friday. Only pieces of flesh were found by military recovery teams in that year, and they were interred in a common grave in Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Francisco on Oct. 15, 1948.

The Mendel Glacier and adjoining Darwin Glacier, which straddle "Evolution Basin" in the national park, have significantly melted because of an on-going California drought, Schweizer said. Last winter's snowpack in the Sierra Nevada was only 25 percent of normal.

A portion of the Mendel Glacier where two World War II airman's bodies were found in October 2005 and August 2007. Photo: Peter Stekel (www.peterstekel.com)

Writer recounts his discovery of lost WWII aviator
By Marc Benjamin--Fresno Bee--Monday, August 27, 2007

At first, writer Peter Stekel thought he was looking at a dying tree. But it couldn't have been. He was above the tree line--about 12,300 feet up on the Mount Mendel glacier in Kings Canyon National Park, California. He took a closer look. It was a body.

Stekel's research trip to the Sierra--a hunt for relics from a 1942 plane crash--gave him a story to tell even before he finishes his book about the ill-fated military training flight. The body he found was one of the lost airmen.

"I looked at him, and I thought of my father," Stekel said. "I was choking back the tears a little bit." Stekel's father--who was a young man during World War II--passed away last year.

Stekel's discovery August 15, 2007, is the latest chapter in the history of the crash site first discovered by college students hiking on the glacier in 1947. An AT-7 training flight from Mather Field in Sacramento had strayed 200 miles off course on November 18, 1942. A blizzard is believed to have caused the crash.

In 2005, ice climbers discovered the body of Leo Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn., an airman. The other crew members were 2nd Lt. William Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio; John Mortensen, 25, of Moscow, Idaho; and Ernest Glenn Munn, 23, of Saint Clairsville, Ohio. Until now, no other bodies had been found.

Stekel, who lives in Seattle but grew up in California, traces his interest in the crash to a magazine article he wrote after Mustonen's body was found. The story intrigued him, he said, because it was about everyday people doing their part in a war effort at a time when the nation was on edge. "It struck me that this is real history," he said. "It's a more personal history, and because it's personal history it deserves more attention."

His trip to the Sierra was part of his research for "The Final Flight," a book intended to chronicle the training flight. Stekel wanted to go to the site in July 2006, but overflowing creeks, rivers and lakes made getting to the glacier extremely difficult. He delayed the trip until October 2006, but then his father died. This month, his opportunity arrived.

Stekel and his hiking partner, Michele Hinatsu, set out with Global Positioning System coordinates for the site where Mustonen's body was found. The two had a permit to go to areas outside of those ordinarily designated for visitors, said Deb Schweizer, a National Park Service spokeswoman. They knew bodies could be out there, Stekel said, but they were focused on searching for bits of wreckage.

"We discovered the exhaust manifold from one of the engines of the airplane, and 100 to 200 feet from there I found the body of this other aviator," Stekel said. The mummified body was clothed similarly to Mustonen--in a sweater and woolen shirt. It was resting against a boulder. A parachute was found near the body, and officials have said it did not appear that the airman had tried to open it.

After spending the night at their base camp, Stekel and Hinatsu returned to the site the next day to search for the remains of the other two airmen. "In fairness to the rest of the crew, we wanted to see if anyone else was there," he said. But they didn't find any more bodies.

On Aug. 17, they hiked to the McClure Meadows Ranger Station to report their discovery. Park rangers climbed to the site August 18 and 19. On August 20, the body was transported to the Fresno County Coroner's Office.

Coroner's officials and an examiner from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii determined the airman died from injuries consistent with a plane crash. The body was flown to Hawaii on Friday. Officials there have DNA from relatives of the three missing aviators. It's expected to take a few weeks to confirm the flyer's identity.

Staff writer Ely Portillo contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at mbenjamin@fresnobee.com

 
Backcountry Resource Center by Paul Richins, Jr.
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