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Airmen honored for Colony Glacier efforts

By Chris McCann | 3rd Maintenance Squadron | Dec. 1, 2020


The 3rd Maintenance Squadron honored 10 Airmen Nov. 30 for their participation in Operation Colony Glacier 2020.

The team members were selected due to their being part of the Wing’s Crash and Recovery program, said Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Day of the 3rd MXS. “Beyond being responsible for in-flight and ground emergencies on base, they are responsible for crash operations extending from Healy to the Aleutian Islands.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the team worked with members of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations team out of at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, to unearth more than 6,000 pounds of debris, 35 personal effects, and 400 samples of remains, which will contribute to the identification of lost service members who perished in the 1952 crash of a C-124 Globemaster II. The airplane was traveling from McChord Field (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord), Washington with 52 passengers and crewmembers aboard when it crashed into Mount Gannett en route to then-Elmendorf Air Force Base.

“We found a lot more than we have in previous years,” said Jeb Ritchie, a crash recovery work leader, who has participated in the recovery efforts for several years. “[This] is probably a lot to do with melt and the cycle in which everything flows through the glacier and comes up. We found two and a half to three times as much as we normally find. It was a great year for debris and remains recovery.”

Technical sergeants Danny James, Kyle Blauzdis, Clint Ramsey, and Scott Congdon, staff sergeants Josiah Marks, Ryan Parks, and Wesley Rice, Senior Airman Kyle Lawrie, Airman 1st Class Josh Cortinas, and Ritchie received Joint Service Achievement medals for their efforts.

“The 3 MXS leadership is proud of the team's dedication and professionalism in serving one of America’s most important missions, in returning lost but never forgotten service members home with distinction and honor,” Day said. “Each member is proud of returning lost service members to their families for closure. It is truly honoring their legacy and the fulfillment of never being forgotten.”

“I'm from California, so I never thought I'd be seeing the ice like I did there; it's beautiful,” said Airman 1st Class Joshua Cortinas, a native of West Covina, California. “They say never leave a man behind, but being able to be out there, enforcing that idea, that felt good. What I'm doing in the service is absolutely worth it, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.”

The Airmen's efforts help bring closure to families who had mourned for decades. Remains from 43 of the 52 passengers have been identified, and the finds from the 2020 season may identify more.

The aircraft was spotted during a break in weather shortly after the crash, but before recovery could begin, it was covered by ice and snow. It lay hidden until 2012, when an Alaska National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk crew spotted the wreckage on Colony Glacier while conducting a training mission in the area. Recovery operations in late June that year confirmed it was the missing C-124 crash site.

Every summer since, the Alaskan Command, AKNG personnel, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations and Armed Forces Medical Examiner System personnel have supported Operation Colony Glacier.

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