Ice-Encased Body Thought to Be WWII Airman

By JULIANA BARBASSA, Associated Press Writer
Fri Oct 21, 7:25 AM ET

FRESNO, Calif. - An ice-encased body believed to be a World War II airman who crashed in 1942 was chipped out of a Sierra Nevada glacier and taken to a laboratory for identification, a deputy coroner said Thursday.

As the frozen body thaws, a picture is emerging — a fair-haired man in an Army uniform who suffered broken bones when his aircraft crashed in the wilderness, forensic experts said.

Soft tissues like skin and muscle have been well-preserved, as well as the man's sun-bleached hair and his uniform, which identifies him as a World-War II-era serviceman, officials said.

"There's a very good possibility for identification," said Paul Emanovsky, a forensic anthropologist with the Hawaii-based Joint Prisoner of War Accounting Command, which recovers and identifies missing military personnel. The identification process could take months.

Blustery weather kept rangers at Kings Canyon National Park from reaching the frozen remains for two days after ice climbers reported last weekend they had seen a man's head, shoulder and arm protruding from the thick ice.

About 80 percent of the body was buried in the glacier on 13,710-foot Mount Mendel. The area can be reached only by hiking two or three days, or by helicopter when the weather allows.

Six park rangers and a military forensics expert started chipping away at the ice Wednesday, freeing the body after about six hours, said ranger Alexandra Picavet.

"The ice initially wasn't bad to dig through, but then as they got deeper it became more difficult," said Picavet, who wasn't among the rangers who excavated the remains.

The crew had to be careful not to damage the remains and worked slowly because they didn't know how the body was positioned, Picavet said. The remains were then flown to the Fresno County Coroner's department.

Park officials summoned JPAC because the man was wearing a parachute stenciled with "Army." They believe he may be a crewman of an AT-7 navigational training plane that crashed Nov. 18, 1942. Several military planes crashed among the craggy peaks in the 1930s and 1940s.

The plane wreckage and four bodies were found by a climber in 1947. It's impossible to tell if this body is connected to that expedition pending the identification process, which will include a thorough examination of the clothing and any documents that may still exist, plus dental records, X-rays or DNA testing on the body.

Relatives of missing soldiers have already started calling from all around the country, wanting to see if this could be a long-lost father or brother, said Loralee Cervantes, Fresno County's coroner.

Military officials said there are 88,000 Americans still missing from past wars, most of them, 78,000, from World War II. Only about 35,000 are deemed recoverable.

JPAC has located and identified other remains from glaciers, where the ice keeps human tissue well preserved.

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