by Tech. Sgt. John Gordinier
Alaskan Command Public Affairs
6/23/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Aboard
an Alaska National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, the team breaks
through the clouds and acquires the first glimpse of the beauty Alaskan
glaciers offer. For many miles all that is seen is ice 50 to 100 feet
high with crevasses highlighted in a light bluish color. Upon landing on
the glacier and exiting the helicopter, it doesn't take long to realize
a tragedy occurred in this beautiful place...mangled aircraft debris
spread for hundreds of yards.
In November 1952, an Air Force C-124 Globemaster II with 52 passengers
and crewmembers aboard took off from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., en
route to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. As the aircraft neared its
destination, volatile weather caused the C-124 to crash into Mt Gannett,
less than 40 miles from Elmendorf AFB.
A search party was dispatched to the crash location and a portion of the
aircraft's tail was spotted, but the harsh weather conditions and the
austere Alaskan environment thwarted efforts and necessitated the
suspension of the recovery effort.
The wreckage lay at the base of the mountain upon a glacier, burying all
evidence of the crash as well as the hope to recover the service
Almost 60 years later, June 9, 2012, an Alaska National Guard UH-60
Black Hawk helicopter crew on a training mission noticed some debris on
Colony Glacier. The National Guard sent a team on foot to examine the
site and they retrieved items that were identified as being from the
Since then, every summer, during a small window of opportunity, Alaskan
Command and Alaska National Guard personnel have been supporting the
joint effort of Operation Colony Glacier. ALCOM coordinates mission
planning and performs aircraft debris recovery while the Alaska National
Guard provides specialists and transportation.
This year, Operation Colony Glacier started June 8 and is scheduled to go until the end of June with weather permitting.
In the past few years since discovery, 17 of the 52 Airmen aboard the
aircraft have been identified and returned home. Providing closure to
families is why many raise their hand at the opportunity to help.
"It is an honor and privilege to be part of this mission...to possibly
provide closure for all the families involved," said Lt. Commander Paul
Cocker, ALCOM deputy chief of future operations and Operation Colony
Glacier project officer. "We are committed to assisting in the safe
recovery of any human remains, personal effects, and equipment at the
crash site. As with any operation of this nature, great care and
consideration for family members will be our first priority in the
recovery of remains at the site."
"Our hope and goal is to find and return the remaining 35
servicemembers," continued Cocker. "Our second priority is maintaining
our environmental stewardship and cleaning up the aircraft debris."
The Alaskan military team is working together to ensure this mission is
completed successfully, continued Cocker. This has been a team effort
the entire way, with Alaskan Command, Alaska National Guard, active-duty
military members, and civilians all combining their various talents
toward this mission.