Frozen Airman's Body Heads Home
The body of an airman lost in a 1942 training accident on
California's Mount Mendel Glacier -- and who was finally found more
than 60 years later -- is finally heading home to Brainerd, MN.
It was only last week that members of Leo Mustonen's family
finally learned conclusively what they had suspected: that the body
found frozen in the glacier last October was that of the former
"Since the discovery last October, it's been a journey of
personally encountering him in a way that was rather surprising,"
said Mustonen's niece, Sister Mary Ruth Mustonen. "Instead of being
an unknown entity in a plane that went down somewhere, we've been
coming to know him."
Leo Mustonen was one of four airmen aboard a Beech AT-7 trainer
(file photo of type, above) that left Sacramento November 18,
1942 for a navigation training flight. Wreckage from one of the
aircraft's two engines was found five years later by a hiker in
Kings Canyon State Park, some 200 miles off course, at an elevation
of 13,700 feet.
A search party sent to investigate in 1947 found the aircraft's
second engine, scraps of clothing, dried flesh and a pair of dog
tags -- but nothing else, including no bodies.
The remaining wreckage sat under the thick ice of the glacier
for the next 58 years, until climbers found a frozen body last
October. As Aero-News reported at the
time, the body was chipped from the ice, and
investigators hoped it would hold enough clues to make a
When that proved impossible, the body was carefully thawed, and
then flown to Hawaii's Hickam AFB for DNA identification by the
Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command -- a task made more difficult as
Mustonen had no immediate surviving relatives to submit to
A match was finally made, according to the Knight-Ridder news
service, after obtaining mitochondrial DNA from Mustonen's niece.
Specimens were also obtained from female relatives of the other
three men who were believed to be onboard the AT-7 (the DNA type
used for matching is passed down to men from their mothers.)
It was through that process of elimination, in addition to
matching up the body's physical characteristics with those of
Mustonen, that a match was made.
Although Mustonen's military service qualifies him for interment
at Arlington National Cemetery -- with honors -- his family felt it
would be best to bring him home to Brainerd, near his mother and
father. The family expects to receive his remains next month.
"All our family is still there, cousins all over the place,"
Sister Mary Ruth said. "It's where he belongs."
The motto of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, tasked with
the unenviable duty of identifying remains of lost soldiers, is
"Until they are home." Thanks to their efforts, Leo Mustonen
will soon be home, surrounded by his family.