An air-sea rescue of seven airmen stranded on the remote Greenland ice cap in 1942 was shaping up to be another glorious chapter in World War II lore.
After rescuing two men, the pilot and radioman of a Coast Guard J2F-4 amphibious Grumman Duck aircraft headed back to save more, but they ran into whiteout conditions and crashed.
Seventy years later, researchers believe they have located the wreckage, 38 feet below the ice near Koge Bay, Greenland.
The Defense Department's Joint POW/MIA Personnel Accounting Command said a search by an expedition team of Coast Guard service members and North South Polar Inc. scientists and explorers has produced sufficient evidence that the location is the crash site, Coast Guard officials announced Monday.
“Locating the J2F-4 Grumman Duck was a monumental success,” Cmdr. Jim Blow, of the Coast Guard Office of Aviation Forces, said in a statement. “Collectively the Coast Guard and [North South Polar] accomplished what the Coast Guard set out to achieve in 2008 when efforts began to locate the Duck.”
For nearly three years, the Coast Guard and North South Polar have been researching historical documentation about the last flight of Coast Guard Lt. John Pritchard, Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin Bottoms and Army Air Force Cpl. Loren Howarth aboard the Duck.
The flight, with Pritchard at the controls and Bottoms serving as radioman, was an attempt to rescue seven members of an Army Air Force B-17 Air Transport Command crew that crashed during a search mission on Nov. 9, 1942. On Nov. 28, 1942, Pritchard and Bottoms used the Duck to rescue two members of the B-17 crew during an unprecedented landing on the Greenland Ice Cap.
When the two Coast Guardsmen returned the following day, they picked up Howarth, the B-17’s radioman. They were attempting to reach the Coast Guard cutter Northland when they crashed.
“The three men aboard this aircraft were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” Blow added. “The story of the Grumman Duck reflects the history and the mission of the Coast Guard, and by finding the aircraft we have begun to repay our country’s debt to them.”
The wrecked Duck was spotted a week later by an Army aircrew, which reported no signs of life. The remaining B-17 crewmen were sustained with air drops until they were rescued about six months later.
Using historical information, ground-penetrating radar, a magnetometer and metal detection equipment the expedition team isolated the location where the aircrew crashed. The team then melted five 6-inch-wide holes deep into the ice and lowered a specially designed camera scope. About 38 feet below the ice surface in the second hole the team saw black cables consistent with wiring used in World War II-era J2F-4 amphibious Grumman aircraft.
Further analysis of video from the camera scope and photographs captured by a member of the expedition team revealed additional aircraft components similar to those found in the engine area of the J2F-4 Grumman Duck.