On Nov. 29, 1942, Lt. John Pritchard and two other Coast Guard aviators flew into a storm over Greenland and were never seen again. Now the Coast Guard is attempting to bring these military men home — before their icy tomb melts into the North Atlantic. The New York Times reports that the Coast Guard has commissioned a private recovery team to locate and repatriate the three men lost in a J2F-4 Grumman Duck biplane.
The Coast Guard initiated this expedition three years ago to bring back the men while their last close relatives were still alive. Nancy Pritchard Morgan, 87, hopes that her brother John will finally come home. As she spoke to the New York Times of her older sibling, “It’s wonderful to know that John hasn’t been forgotten. We can’t give up — not yet.” Further, the Coast Guard expressed the desire and duty to bring home every man it can as “the right thing to do.”
The J2F-4 Grumman Duck biplane containing the three men remains embedded in a Greenland glacier. The crash is thought to have taken place above Koge Bay in southeast Greenland. The 15-member recovery group, including a reporter and three Coast Guard members, has employed ice melting equipment which can find objects as the ice dissolves around them. They also have ground-penetrating radar to find the frozen remains. But the recovery team has been hampered by severe weather and other setbacks. And so, just last month the Coast Guard brought in private contractor Luciano Sapienza. Sapienza and his team are hoping to find out how far the plane may have traveled since its crash.
Alberto Behar is a NASA electrical engineer who designed a special camera that could be lowered down an ice shaft to check for evidence of the biplane. As he told the New York Times, “One of the biggest challenges to this mission was not knowing how fast the glacier is moving or in which direction.” Greenland recently experienced its warmest summer in 150 years. Officials are concerned that warmer temperatures may push the Duck biplane right into the sea, taking the remains of the three airmen with it. Financing the expedition has also proved a challenge for the team.
Lt. John Pritchard and his men weren’t the only WWII aviators downed by storms that fateful November of 1942. In 2007, the frozen body of Leo Mustonen, a 22-year-old Army Air Force cadet, was found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Mustonen was onboard an AT-7 training flight when it crashed during a blizzard on Nov. 18, 1942. The cadet was also entombed in a small glacier.
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