Identity of frozen airman due this week
The military lab's work has been slowed by a hunt for DNA samples for one possible match
A military lab studying the remains of a World War II airman found in a California glacier expects to identify the man as early as this week.
Forensic scientists on Oahu have been examining the airman's clothes, teeth and DNA since he was found in October to pinpoint who he is.
Army Staff Sgt. Erika Ruthman said the experts expected to have an answer sometime around the first week of February.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command plans to post a notice on its Web site when it identifies the man, Ruthman said. The command is taking the unusual step because of strong public interest in the case, she said.
The memo may not give the man's name, however, because it will be up to the surviving relatives to decide whether to release that information.
Ruthman said scientists at the command's lab on Hickam Air Force Base are now taking a look at all the evidence they've collected to determine if there are any gaps in their knowledge about the man.
Lab officials said in November that they narrowed down the possibilities to four men. All were on board a U.S. Army navigational training flight that disappeared in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on Nov. 18, 1942.
The AT-7 plane, which took off from Sacramento, was piloted by 2nd Lt. William A. Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio. It also had three aviation cadets aboard: Ernest Munn, 23, of St. Clairsville, Ohio; John Mortenson, 25, of Moscow, Idaho; and Leo M. Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn.
The deep cold preserved the airman's remains well over the intervening decades, providing researchers with a number of clues.
Standing between 5'9" and 6'2", the man was in his early 20s and had light brown or sandy blond hair. He wore a brown U.S. Army Air Forces uniform predating the founding of the Air Force as a separate service in 1947.
Investigators found a faintly printed name on a heavily corroded metal badge attached to his shirt, providing one strong indication about his identity. But scientists haven't relied on this to identify him, given the possibility he may have been wearing someone else's clothes.
Instead, they have been meticulously checking his DNA against the genetic information of the relatives of those on board the plane.
This process has been complicated by a lack of U.S.-residing living maternal relatives for one of the cadets. The lab has thus been forced to try to find one of the cadets' relatives from Finland to provide the DNA sample they needed.
To identify remains with genetic information, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command lab most frequently uses mitochondrial DNA, which is a form of DNA that everyone shares with their siblings and their maternal cousins.