By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Likely wreckage of a U.S. Air Force plane that crashed into the side of an Alaska mountain 60 years ago - killing all 52 servicemen on board - has been found on a glacier miles from the point of impact, military officials said on Wednesday.
A military spokeswoman said some debris collected by a recovery team at the glacier was definitely that of the C-124 Globemaster cargo plane that crashed in November 1952, although the identification was still tentative.
"Some of the evidence positively correlates to the United States Air Force Globemaster that crashed in 1952," said Captain Jamie Dobson of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, which specializes in recovering remains of lost military personnel.
If the wreckage found atop Colony Glacier, about 45 miles east of Anchorage and near the much-larger Knik Glacier, is confirmed as being from the 1952 crash, one of Alaska's many aviation mysteries might be solved.
The aircraft pieces were first spotted June 10 by an Alaska National Guard crew flying a helicopter in the area during a routine training mission. Also spotted was suspected bone material, officials said.
Officials at Anchorage's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson sought assistance from JPAC, which sent a team of specialists to Anchorage last week. An eight-member team collected evidence to be further analyzed at JPAC's laboratory in Hawaii.
Only relatively small and light fragments were on the glacier's surface, Dobson said. Members of the recovery team did descend into some of the crevasses, but could not retrieve anything for further study, she said.
"They weren't seeing human remains. They were seeing wreckage. But it wasn't recoverable. It was frozen in ice," she said.
The team did collect pieces of suspected bone matter from the top of the glacier. But it was unclear whether that was related to the crash, nor was it clear that all the debris atop Colony Glacier was from a single air crash, Dobson said.
The plane in question was traveling to Elmendorf from its home base near Tacoma, Washington, when it slammed into the side of Mount Gannett, which rises to about 10,000 feet, according to news accounts at the time.
Six days later, pilots searching the area spotted the tail of the plane protruding from the snow at the mountain's 8,100-foot level, said Doug Beckstead, a historian at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
But efforts to recover the bodies or any of the wreckage were called off because of bad weather and multiple dangers in the area, Beckstead said. The wreckage became covered by the falling snow and subsequent avalanches and was lost from view.
Since then, pieces of the plane have been churned up by snow and ice, he said. The spot where the debris was found this month is about 14 miles from the point of impact on Mount Gannett.
"Over the last 60 years, it's just been flowing down that glacier," Beckstead said.
(Editing By Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)