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    3rd OSS ensures safe return for fallen service members

    Colony Glacier 2021

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Johnathon Wines | Members of the Operation Colony Glacier recovery team search for remains of fallen...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Johnathon Wines  

    Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs   

    JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska—Nearly 70 years after a fatal crash claimed the lives of 52 service members in an austere area of the Last Frontier, the Operation Colony Glacier team returned to the site of the crash to recover decades-old remains of fallen comrades June 17, 2021.

    Airmen from the 3rd Operations Support Squadron weather flight cleared the way for Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations and a host of other JBER units to conduct the sensitive repatriation mission and provide closure to families of those lost.

    “Our military has made a promise that it will do everything it can to return all service members back home with honor and dignity,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. J. Bant Sexson IV, 3rd OSS airfield weathers operations noncommissioned officer in charge. “This operation is our way of helping to fulfill that promise and bring some small closure back to the families of those who gave their all in service to this great country.”

    On Nov. 22, 1952, a C-124 Globemaster II departed from McChord Air Force Base, Washington, headed for Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. This flight, along with the 52 service members aboard, never reached its final destination.

    The plane crashed at Colony Glacier in the Chugach Mountains, leaving no survivors. The crash site was discovered shortly after by search and rescue teams, but the challenges posed by the location and weather conditions made recovery efforts impossible.

    The crash site was rediscovered in 2012 by an Alaska National Guard crew on a training mission, and every year since, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations has been able to send a recovery team to the site. This is in large part because of the efforts of the 3rd OSS weather flight.

    “Near a glacier you may have different weather conditions than nearby areas due to the difference in heating, causing sporadic or continuous wind gusts or lower cloud cover and visibility that can’t easily be seen from the office,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard Gibson, a weather forecaster with the 3rd OSS weather flight.

    To get a closer look at the unique challenges the environment poses and to make sure personnel, supplies and equipment can safely be brought to and from the site, the 3rd OSS sends a team out the field.

    “We do this by forward deploying to the base of Colony Glacier on the northeast shore of Inner Lake George with our tactical weather sensor and the expertise of our forward deployed tactical weather observers,” Sexson explained. “Our main weather shop back on JBER-Elmendorf provides mission execution forecasts and weather watches, warnings and advisories to the aircrew as the garrison portion of our efforts.”

    Gibson explained that early summer is typically the best time of the year to send the recovery team, and the weather team plays a big role in making that determination.

    “Late June is typically the best time of year to do this operation due to lower probability of thunderstorms and enough snow has melted on the glacier for the mountaineering team to be able to see hazards on the ice,” said Gibson.

    The challenging conditions around the crash site mean only personnel with the proper training and equipment are allowed to participate in the recovery. If the weather conditions are determined to be unsafe at any time, all personnel are removed from the site until the operation can safely continue.

    “So much of the recovery effort is dependent on weather,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Briana Quintana, Operation Colony Glacier lead planner assigned to AFMAO. “When you’re operating in an unpredictable environment like a glacier, we rely on the weather team to keep our personnel safe and recovery efforts on track.”

    As of May 2020, AFMAO has successfully recovered identifiable remains of 43 of the 52 service members.

    “The fact that I get officially tasked with something of this magnitude is an honor I can’t even rightly put into words and certainly is a career highlight,” said Sexson. “Having a forward deployed weather team to inject intel into an operation like this has proved valuable since the inception of my career field, and to this day we continue to use the weather to our advantage and ensure mission success.”

    AFMAO remains committed to bringing closure to the families of those who lost loved ones as a result of this aircraft accident.



    Date Taken: 06.24.2021
    Date Posted: 06.24.2021 18:56
    Story ID: 399695
    Location: ANCHORAGE, AK, US 

    Web Views: 368
    Downloads: 0