FRESNO, Calif. – Authorities have removed a body that was found enclosed in a glacier off a mountain in the Sierra Nevada.
The ice-enclosed body is believed to be that of an airman who was lost when his plane crashed in World War Two (search). Officials with the Fresno County Coroners will work with military officials who specialize in recovering military personnel to try to identify the body.
Climbers reported the find last weekend saying 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 the side of the 13,710-foot Mount Mendel (search). The remote wilderness area can only be reached by hiking two or three days, or by helicopter when the weather allows, rangers said.
Six park rangers and a military forensics expert started chipping away at the ice on Wednesday, freeing the body after about six hours of meticulous work, said ranger Alexandra Picavet.
"The body barely got out before dark hit," said Picavet, explaining the experts were able to free the body faster than she expected. "The ice initially wasn't bad to diplane that crashed on the mountain on Nov. 18, 1942. Several military planes crashed among the craggy peaks in the 1930s and 1940s.
The wreckage was initially spotted by a climber in 1947. It's impossible to tell if this body is really connected to that expedition until experts go through the identification process, which will include a thorough examination of the clothing and a search for any documents that may have survived the decades, and may include dental records, X-rays or DNA testing, experts said.
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.
Officials with JPAC said they have located and identified remains found in glaciers before. The last one was a Cold War-era serviceman found in Greenland (search).
Bob Mann, the deputy scientific director with the command's Central Identification Laboratory, said sometimes remains found in glaciers are reasonably well preserved. Often even soft tissue like skin can keep well in icy conditions.
Glaciers are living things, Mann said, slowly melting around the edges and grinding over rock as they move, and sometimes leaving behind long-hidden secrets like this one.
The agency processes hundreds of cases a year, and has an average of two identifications a week, said spokeswoman Rumi Nielson-Green.
"To those families, those are the ones that count," she said.