Monday, August 20, 2007

WWII airman’s body found on receding Kings Canyon glacier

Steve Rubenstein, Chronicle Staff Writer

(08-20) 19:10 PDT -- The frozen remains of a missing World War II airman have been discovered on a remote glacier in Kings Canyon National Park, not far from the spot where the body of his apparent crewmate was discovered in 2005, it was announced on Monday.

A hiker discovered the remains on Wednesday at an elevation of 12,300 feet near Mount Darwin inside the park. The remains, which were accompanied by a World War II era uniform and parachute, were being taken on Monday to the the Fresno County coroner's office.

Because of the cold temperature at the recovery site on the Mendel Glacier, the remains included skin, hair and soft tissue, according to Army Major Brian DeSantis of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii. The command will work to identify the body once the coroner releases it to the military.

"This body was found 100 feet from where the last one was found,'' DeSantis said. "We're hopeful it's from the same incident.''

On Oct. 16, 2005, an ice climber found the body of a man later identified as Leo Mustonen, 22, one of four fliers aboard an Army Air Corps AT-7 plane that took off from Mather Air Force Base on Nov. 18, 1942, on a routine training mission and was never heard from again. The plane was believed to have crashed in a blizzard.

After Mustonen's body was found, searchers scoured the area, looking for other remains, but were hampered by the thick snowpack.

This summer, however, the snowpack at the site was about one-third of normal, DeSantis said.

"Basically, the snow and ice receded enough for the remains to become exposed,'' he said.

DeSantis said a military forensic anthropologist is on his way to Fresno to assist authorities in identifying the remains.

E-mail Steve Rubenstein at

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