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The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Remains of WWII airman possibly found in glacier


August 21, 2007

FRESNO – A hiker discovered the remains of a man believed to be a missing World War II airman frozen inside a Sierra Nevada glacier not far from the spot where a missing aviation cadet's body was found two years ago, authorities said yesterday.

The second set of human remains was found in a high alpine region of Kings Canyon National Park on Wednesday, no more than 100 feet from where climbers spotted the ice-entombed body of Leo Mustonen in October 2005, park officials said.

Rangers said Seattle-area author Peter Stekel, who was hiking in the backcountry doing research on a book about the airman found in 2005, was the hiker who spotted the body, The Fresno Bee reported yesterday.

Rangers flew to the area Saturday to confirm the find, and again Sunday to begin making arrangements to remove the remains, The Bee reported.

Rangers found the body partially exposed on a remote glacier resting among granite boulders, his undeployed parachute inches away and the pull cord on his chest.

“It looks like his head was just resting on the rock,” said Debbie Brenchley, the first Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks ranger to confirm the find. “You can see he has a wool sweater on, and a white collar and a ring on.”

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 Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn. His remains were also discovered by hikers. But Swed said they will have to wait for positive identification to know for sure.

The Fresno County Coroner's Office is overseeing the retrieval of the remains, which were scheduled to arrive in Fresno last night.

Military anthropologists plan to analyze the body, which they believe could be one of three men who was flying with Mustonen when their AT-7 navigational plane disappeared after takeoff from a Sacramento airfield on Nov. 18, 1942.

A blizzard is believed to have caused the crash that killed Mustonen, pilot William Gamber, 23, and aviation Cadets John Mortenson, 25, and Ernest Munn, 23, of St. Clairsville, Ohio.

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