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Remains found on glacier

Mummified body may be that of World War II aviator from Idaho

Members of a National Park Service rescue team carefully remove the parachute to protect evidence. Photo courtesy National Park Service (Photo courtesy National Park Service)

At the 13,600-foot level of Evolution Basin in California's rugged Sierra Nevada, a Seattle author just helped write another chapter in a 65-year-old World War II mystery tied to Moscow, Idaho.

Eight days ago, author Peter Stekel notified the National Park Service that he'd found a mummified body on Mendel Glacier.

His surprise discovery came after he spent several days hiking into the remote, high-mountain area to research his forthcoming book on four World War II airmen who disappeared on Nov. 18, 1942, when their AT-7 Navigator crashed in a snowstorm near the California-Nevada border.

Their bodies and most of the aircraft wreckage became encased in the Mendel Glacier, and only fragments of evidence were recovered immediately after the crash.

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Stekel became part of the book he's writing because severe drought conditions are shrinking the glacier. Now, the Seattle author, who's still in the backcountry and unavailable for comment, is likely eager to know the identity of the body he discovered.

John M. Mortenson, 25, of Moscow, and Ernest G. Munn, 23, of Clairsville, Ohio, were two of three U.S. Army Air Forces aviation cadets aboard the training plane piloted by 2nd Lt. William A. Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio.

The body found by Stekel is believed to be one of those three men, according to the National Park Service and military forensic experts.

The remains, including an unopened Army parachute, were recovered from the glacier on Monday by helicopter, three days after the author hiked to a remote ranger station and reported the discovery on Aug. 18, said Deb Schweizer, National Park Service public information officer, who is stationed at Kings Canyon National Park.

Before the removal, a park service anthropologist photographed and documented the scene. The area was searched for further evidence without results.

No positive identification was made this week during a preliminary examination by the Fresco County coroner before the body was turned over to U.S. military forensic experts.

The initial exam turned up a 1923 buffalo head nickel, a decaying wallet with faded photographs and an ice-preserved Army Air Forces uniform of World War II vintage, authorities said.

The remains are scheduled to be flown today from Travis Air Force Base in California to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command's forensic laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base in Oahu, Hawaii.

Identification of the body is expected to take a month or two, said Troy Kitch, deputy director of public affairs at JPAC, the world's largest forensic identification lab.

Military forensic anthropologists will attempt to obtain a DNA sample from the corpse and send that sample to the Armed Force's DNA laboratory in Maryland where its unique coding profile will be developed. That DNA profile will then be returned to the JPAC Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii for the comparison analysis.

Military experts who travel the world recovering and identifying U.S. war casualties are hopeful because of the condition of the body that a good DNA sample will be obtained, Kitch said.

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