TAMPA — A Tampa woman whose grandfather was among 52 servicemen killed when their Air Force transport plane crashed into an Alaska mountain 63 years ago has accused the military of lagging behind in conducting DNA tests on remains recovered from the crash site last year.
Tonja Anderson-Dell, who is coordinating efforts by descendants to identify those who perished in the crash, says the contingent that uncovered the remains in June and July 2014 kept the tissue samples for over a year without doing any testing, then shipped them halfway around the world where they now rest.
“For a year and three months, they never touched them,” Anderson-Dell said of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, now known as the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, based in Hawaii. “Those remains should have been tested.”
Left in the dark are the descendants of those killed in the crash, who are awaiting the identification and return of the remains of their ancestors so they can be properly buried.
The C-124A Globemaster crashed into Mount Gannett and slid into the Colony Glacier in November 1952, killing everyone on board. A winter storm then blew in, making recovery efforts impossible. When the winter weather cleared months later, searchers went to the site but found that the glacier had swallowed the wreckage and remains.
Most of the 52 people aboard were bound for Korea. The dead included Anderson-Dell’s grandfather, Isaac Anderson, a 21-year-old Tampa native who had been in the Air Force not quite a year and a half. He left behind a 20-year-old wife, Dorothy, and 18-month old son, Isaac Jr., Anderson-Dell’s father.
In 2012, the glacier began churning up the wreckage and the remains of the victims 12 miles from the crash site, about 40 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska.
Initially, Anderson-Dell believed she was the only relative seeking information about the plane, but after she began building a Facebook page, other descendants of the victims began contacting her and each other. Most of the descendants have been contacted by the military and have provided DNA samples so, as remains are recovered, they can be tested to determine identity.
Last summer — summer is the only time of year the weather allows recovery efforts — searchers collected and crated what remains they could find and shipped the material to the JPAC headquarters in Hawaii.
But DNA testing was never done, said Anderson-Dell, who still awaits the recovery and identification of her grandfather’s remains.
The samples recovered last year “were never identified, never tested,” she said. “They never started the process.’’
Three weeks ago, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency shipped those remains to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Dover is where bodies of all U.S. service men and women killed while on duty are taken, and a recovery team from Dover will be formed to continue the yearly visits to Alaska to recover remains.
Air Force Capt. Karl Wiest, with the public affairs office at Dover, confirmed Friday that teams from there will begin collecting remains from the glacier beginning next year.
“That is correct, sir,” he said. “This is an Air Force mission and we basically will be the lead agency taking it over.”
As for the status of the remains found last year, the Air Force is releasing no information.
“I know of the case, but I don’t know the status of anything with it,” said Paul Stone, a civilian spokesman for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at Dover Air Force Base. “I have no information on this. I’m sorry.”
That’s what is being told to Anderson-Dell and other descendants, who have been waiting years for the remains of their ancestors to emerge from the glacier.
Anderson-Dell said she has faith in the Dover team that will begin recovery operations next year, but she urged the Air Force not to delay DNA testing. People are waiting for closure, she said.
“Since the plane has been found, we have lost several family members,” she said, and others are aging and may not be around when identification of their ancestor is confirmed.
“These family members, including my father,” she said, “are not getting any younger and to have JPAC/DPAA not address the 2014 remains for over a year is unacceptable.”
So far, 17 of the 52 men aboard the ill-fated C-124 Globemaster have been identified through DNA; the remains of most have been returned to their families. Anderson-Dell has attended funerals of many of the airmen.
“I will continue to fight,” she said, “until the men are returned home to their families.”