Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West

Beechcraft AT-7
Continuing Story
August 21, 2007

Last week Peter Stekel went to the Beechcraft AT-7 crash site at the Mendel Glacier in Kings Canyon National Park where he located another of the missing airmen from the 11/18/42. A recovery team flew to the wreck site by helicopter on 8/20/07 to remove the remains of the unidentified USAAF crewman. Mr. Stekel is doing research for a book about the crew of AT-7 serial number 41-21079. With drought conditions continuing in the High Sierra the remaining two crewmen may also be recovered in the near future.


Ever since October, 2005 I have been conducting research for FINAL FLIGHT, a book I am writing that documents the crash of a Beech 18 AT-7 Navigator #41-21079 piloted by 2nd Lt. William Gamber. This is a great story - one befitting our greatest detectives. The aircraft disappears on November 18, 1942 and reappears briefly five years later when four UC Berkeley students discover wreckage on Mendel Glacier in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. With winter coming on fast, one of the students guides a group of Army Air-Sea Rescue captains to the site. They spend three days getting to the site and three hours poking around the glacier, finally finding engine identification tags which confirm the wreck is the missing AT-7 piloted by Lt. William Gamber with three aviation cadets [John Mortenson, Ernest Glenn Munn and Leo Mustonen] on board. No bodies are recovered. The following summer a team of soldiers tries to recover remains and fail.

The plane slips from memory until October, 2005 when two climbers discover a body melting out of the Mendel Glacier. Six months later this aviator is identified as Cadet Leo Mustonen. And, once again the story fades from view. That is, until August, 2007 when my hiking partner and I discover the body of another aviator within 100 feet of where Cadet Mustonen was found.

This is real history - "not the history of H. G. Wells" - as Caspar Gutman gloats in the classic mystery novel, The Maltese Falcon. It's not the history of movers and shakers, the wealthy or the politically connected. It's the history of average, everyday people. The kind of people we're proud to call our family and friends. And, for me, that makes this personal history.

I have been hiking and climbing in the Sierra Nevada and in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks since 1965 and have never found any other place that has felt so much like home to me. Added to these feelings is my surprise discovery of the second aviator. This has now become a personal story to me.
(All photos courtesy of Peter Stekel, copyright 2007 by Peter Stekel, all rights reserved)

Keep up-to-date on press reports and my research for FINAL FLIGHT - the story of four aviators lost in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks in November, 1942:


JPAC announced this week that the human remains discovered on the Mendel Glacier in the High Sierra by Peter Stekel during the summer of 2007 are those of Aviation Cadet Ernest G. Munn. For more information see the 3/12/08 article by Steve Chawkins.





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