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Missing WWII Flier Found Frozen On Glacier

POSTED: 7:33 am EDT August 21, 2007
UPDATED: 7:38 am EDT August 21, 2007

Hikers discovered the remains of a man believed to be a missing World War II airman resting on top of a California glacier just yards away from the spot where a missing aviation cadet's body was found two years ago, authorities said Monday.

The second set of human remains were found in a high alpine region of Kings Canyon National Park on Wednesday, as little as 50 feet from where climbers spotted the ice-entombed body of Leo Mustonen in October 2005, park officials said.

Rangers located the second body exposed on a remote rock glacier between granite boulders, his undeployed parachute stenciled "US ARMY" inches away.

"It looks like his head was just resting on the rock," said Debbie Brenchley, the first ranger to see the remains on Friday after a pair of backpackers reported the find. "You can see he has a wool sweater on, and a white collar and a ring on."

Icy winter storms and constant glacial movement had hampered park officials' efforts to find additional survivors of the Nov. 18, 1942, crash that killed Mustonen and three other young servicemen aboard a training flight over the Central Valley.

Last year's light snowfall left parts of that area bare of ice, and the melting snowpack revealed the legless body among the rocks, rangers said. Peter Stekel, a Seattle-based writer working on a book about the failed flight, came across the skeleton as he and a friend were searching the granite peaks for the plane's engine, rangers said.

"We've scoured the area over the last few years," said J.D. Swed, the parks' chief ranger. "We're confident that there isn't anything else to be found there -- for the moment."

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

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

A blizzard is believed to have caused the crash that killed Mustonen, of Brainerd, Minn., pilot William Gamber, 23, and aviation Cadets John Mortenson, 25, and Ernest Munn, 23, of St. Clairsville, Ohio. All four were given a military funeral in San Bruno's Golden Gate National Cemetery, but for decades the servicemen's families have struggled to find closure.

Mustonen was finally laid to rest in his hometown last year, where his cremated remains were buried next to his parents' graves at a cemetery overlooking the Mississippi River.

Military officials planned to notify the families of the three missing men Monday, said Robert Mann, deputy scientific adviser for the Hawaii-based Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command, which concluded in February 2006 that the first body was Mustonen's.

Forensic anthropologists will determine the downed airman's age at time of death and race within a couple of months by looking at the teeth and bones, Mann said. They will then extract DNA from the remains and compare it to genetic samples from the maternal blood lines of the three missing men to confirm the man's identity, he said.

The names of the three men's relatives were not immediately released Monday.


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