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Tuesday, August 28, 2007
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Serviceman's remains found on glacier

last updated: August 21, 2007 04:01:38 AM

FRESNO — Kings Canyon National Park officials confirmed Monday that they've retrieved the remains of a World War II-era serviceman on the Mount Mendel glacier, about 100 feet from where the remains of another airman was found two years ago.

Officials said they will have the remains flown to Hawaii for identification by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.

The body was found Wednesday by a Seattle-area author who was doing research on a book about the airman found in 2005, park service officials said Monday.

Peter Stekel was hiking in the backcountry when he found the body.

He started hiking out Thursday and arrived at a ranger station on Friday to let them know what he found. Rangers flew to the area Saturday to confirm the find, and again Sunday to begin making arrangements to get the remains off the mountain.

J.D. Swed, chief ranger of Kings Canyon-Sequoia National Parks, said there are indications the remains could be from the same plane as the one that carried Leo Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn. His remains were discovered by hikers in October 2005. But Swed said they will have to wait for positive ID to know for sure.

Park Ranger Debbie Brenchley said the airman's parachute still was folded up and the pull cord was on his chest.

Mustonen was one of four military aviators in an AT-7 training flight from Mather Field in Sacramento that strayed off course Nov. 18, 1942. A blizzard is believed to have been the cause of the crash on the 13,691-foot Sierra Nevada peak, according to weather reports.

When the crash occurred, the training flight was about 200 miles off course.

Mustonen's remains were the first of the four airmen to be found.

He suffered multiple broken bones and internal injuries that would have been consistent with a plane crash, authorities reported at the time.

Mustonen's body thawed at the Fresno County Coroner's Office before being flown to Hawaii for identification by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.

Others on that flight were: Army cadets John Mortensen, 25, of Moscow, Idaho; Ernest Munn, 23, of St. Clairesville, Ohio; and the pilot, 2nd Lt. William Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio.

Glaciers have been known to preserve human bodies for centuries. In the 1990s, tourists in the Italian Alps stumbled upon what experts believe was a 5,300-year-old cadaver.

The flight was one of several dozen air crashes during World War II training missions. Many of those aircraft still are missing in the 400-mile-long Sierra.

Mount Mendel is a remote area that is well-known by ice climbers.

Mendel glacier is about a half-mile wide.

There are about 1,500 small glaciers between Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite national parks, the southernmost belt of glaciers in the United States.

Scientists say the Sierra glaciers are small and relatively young, about 600 to 800 years old.

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