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October 20, 2005

Officials Still Thawing Body Found in Glacier

- The Fresno County Coroner says it may take weeks or even longer to identify the body of a man frozen in a glacier in the Kings Canyon National Park for what's believed to be decades.

The unidentified serviceman was encased in 400 pounds of ice and granite, so it will take several days to slowly defrost. The coroner says it is very likely even if the serviceman's family does come forward, it will take weeks or possibly even months before a positive identification can be made.

Forensic teams say after taking a better look at the remains of what is believed to be a World War II airman, it is apparent he likely died when he was ejected from am Army plane. In addition to trauma, he also has several broken bones.

"The material evidence that's with him and the biological remains that's there ... there is some evidence that there is some trauma consistent with an airline crash or a slow moving airline crash," said forensic anthropologist Paul Emanovsky.

Coroner's officials say they are working around the clock to de-thaw the body slowly. It's a science in itself to preserve any evidence left behind.

"We started out with just allowing him rest in the air and we've just been using cold water to melt the ice at a quicker rate," said Fresno County Coroner Lori Cervantes.

A rapid defrost would likely ruin the soft tissue that needs to be examined and then tested.

A forensic pathologist assigned to the case says it's still too early to tell whether the body was partially thawed and then re-frozen over the years.

"Once it is completely thawed, we look at all the layers of the ice and the granite which is embedded in the ice to see how much of thawing and rethawing what happened that way," explained forensic pathologist Venu Gopal.

Representatives from J-PAC, or the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command Center, say they plan to take the body to Hawaii to perform additional forensic anthropology and dental exams.

If those tests cannot positively identify the man, DNA tests will then be used and then matched up with possible family members.

The coroner said on Thursday that she's received close to a half dozen calls from families who think they know who the man may be. At least one call from the Midwest seemed very credible.

The body will likely be flown to Hawaii early next week.


Copyright 2005 ABC Inc., KFSN-TV Fresno

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