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October 19, 2005

Officials Examining Body Found in Glacier

- The climber that uncovered a mystery in the High Sierra talked about the discovery for the first time Wednesday night, as the frozen body arrived in Fresno.

After removing the body from the Mount Mendel Glacier in Kings Canyon National Park, it was flown to Fresno's Chandler Airport and transferred to the Fresno County Coroner's Office on Wednesday night.

The coroner is working with the military as they try to identify the man. It has been 63 years since the plane he is believed to have been aboard crashed. Now, the airman is one step closer to his final resting place.

The frozen body arrived after a 45 minute flight from the glacier mountain it has been resting on since 1942.

For five to six hours, recovery teams chiseled away at the ice, working to free the body.

"We didn't tamper with the remains as much as try and remove them. They're frozen, so it wouldn't of done us much good to try to go through his clothing, so we just removed the part in statue in total ... put it in a recovery bag and flew it out," explained Ned Kelleher.

For the first time, the glacier climber who made the discovery talks about how he spotted the body.

"It was quite a windy day and I could see the fluttering of the parachute and that was the first thing that kind of caught my eye," said Michael Nozel. "And as I got closer, I started to think gosh, that doesn't look like a rock sticking out of the glacier. And I thought at first ... no, even though it does look like a body, I don't think that's what it is. And then of course, as I got closer, I thought, my goodness I think that is a body."

The climber says he and his climbing partner marked the spot with a GPS device and cut out a piece of the parachute as proof of the discovery.

The coroner's office will now be working alongside the joint POW-MIA Accounting Command Center, or J-PAC, to identify the body.

"At this time right now, it's a joint effort until we know what we have. Right now we have a person from World War II that we don't know much about yet," said Fresno County Deputy Coroner Joseph Tiger.

The ice climbers say they are just a small part in solving the mystery. They hope the discovery will be the beginning of closure for a family who has waited decades to find out what happened to the serviceman.

"We don't want to bring the focus to ourselves ... we would rather the focus be on a happy ending, or as happy an ending it can be, for this individual's family or some loved one. That's really our intent," said a climber.

Still wearing his green wool sweater, the airman likely died when he hit the glacier or nearby rocks. Recovery teams say military clothing was also uncovered near the body that's also believed to be his.

Thursday, the coroner's office, along with an anthropologist, plan to x-ray the body and determine whether an autopsy will be performed. If it is in fact a World War II airman, he will be buried with full military honors.


Copyright 2005 ABC Inc., KFSN-TV Fresno

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