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Found: Bodies of 17 military members lost in 1952 crash

U.S. Department of DefenseU.S. Air Force
Bodies of 17 service members lost in a 1952 plane crash in Alaska are recovered and identified
Military plane 'literally just flew into the side of the mountain' in 1952 Alaska crash

The bodies of 17 service members lost in a plane crash in Alaska more than 60 years ago have been recovered and identified, the Defense Department announced.

Fifty-two people -- all members of the military -- were on board the Douglas C-124 Globemaster when it crashed while flying from McChord Air Force Base in Washington to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska on Nov. 22, 1952, the department said in a statement.

At least two of them had Southern California ties, the Los Angeles Times reported in the days after the crash. Both were dentists: Air Force Col. Noel E. Hoblit, 45, whose parents lived in Pasadena, and Army Lt. Col. Lawrence S. Singleton, "about 49," of North Hollywood. Hoblit was the officer in charge of all dental work in the Air Force's Alaskan Command, The Times said. 

Because of weather, recovery efforts could not start immediately after the crash, and search parties couldn't find any of the victims in late November and early December of that year, the Defense Department said. 

The crash site was finally spotted in June 2012 by an Alaska National Guard helicopter crew doing a training mission over the Colony Glacier, and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and Joint Task Force team started a recovery operation, the Defense Department said.

The Globemaster plane “literally just flew into the side of the mountain,” Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson historian Douglas Beckstead said in 2012. “It looks as though there was an avalanche of both snow and rock that came down and buried the debris.”

“It’s taken 60 years for the wreckage and portions of the plane to actually come out of the glacier underneath all that ice and snow,” Gregory Berg, a forensic anthropologist for the military, said in 2012. “It’s starting to erode out now.” Berg emphasized that what with DNA analysis, dental comparisons and skeletal analysis, the identification process could take years.

In 2013, the Defense Department said, more artifacts were visible, spurring further recovery operations.

The full list of service members whose bodies have been recovered can be seen at the Defense Department website. Their bodies are being returned to their families for burial with full military honors.

The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory identified them using forensic tools and circumstantial evidence, the department said. The bodies of the others who were on the plane have not been recovered, but the department said it will keep looking for opportunities to find them.

C-124 Globemasters, transport planes used to move heavy cargo and evacuate refugees, were "affectionately known" as "Old Shakey," according to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. They were built in the late 1940s through mid-1950s and were retired in 1974.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

1:01 p.m.: Adds details from 1952 Los Angeles Times coverage and 2012 comments by Gregory Berg and Douglas Beckstead.

This story was originally published at 11:56 a.m.

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U.S. Department of DefenseU.S. Air Force
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