Date: March, 12th 1948
Type: McDonnell Douglas DC-4
Registration: -
Operator: Northwest Airlines
Where: Mount sanford, USA
Report No.: -
Report Date: -
Pages: -


*** Pilots find wreckage of 1948 Northwest Airlines DC-4

A pair of commercial pilots have found the fabled wreckage of the DC-4 that barreled into Mount Sanford on a winter night in 1948 during a blinding display of northern lights. Legend, never confirmed and often contested, holds that the plane was carrying gold bullion Thirty men died in the crash, and the site is considered a graveyard by the National Park Service. The fated DC-4 from Northwest Airlines carried 24 merchant marines and a crew of six from Shanghai to New York City on March 12, 1948. Northern lights appeared as hanging curtains and were unusually bright obscuring Mount Sanford from view for periods of one to five minutes. At the moment of the crash, a high school girl coming out of a theater in saw an orange fireball and a red plume high on the mountain.

The 30 men were in their late teens to mid-50s. Most were in the merchant marine. Many had also served in the armed forces. One took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

And one of the 30, Alaska State Troopers learned Wednesday, wore a ring on the night of March 12, 1948, when their chartered Northwest Airlines DC-4 rammed into Mount Sanford at 230 mph.

The silver ring has the image of a mosque etched on its diamond-shaped face, and "1946" and "Iran" stamped on its sides.

Troopers said they found the ring under rocks and imbedded in the ice of an unnamed glacier on Sanford's west side, in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Troopers also brought back a perfectly preserved, still frozen forearm and hand, said trooper Sgt. Rodney Dial in Glennallen.

The items were among the wreckage located Saturday by two commercial pilots who'd made it a longtime personal project to positively identify the remains of Flight 4422. The plane had refueled in Anchorage on its trip from Shanghai, China, to New York before it crashed into Sanford, possibly because of a blinding auroral display. Six crewmen and 24 mariners were on board when the plane disintegrated in a fireball seen by dozens.

Whereabouts of the wreckage has long been known but, until now, never confirmed. On Sunday, Marc Millican of Anchorage and Kevin McGregor of Golden, Colo., hiked out with parts of the plane whose numbers and other markings showed it was that of the doomed flight.

Millican, 42, and McGregor, 44, displayed some of the wreckage at an afternoon press conference Wednesday in Anchorage - mangled pieces of metal and a shard of convex plastic seared on one side.

Troopers visited the site Wednesday to recover and attempt to identify any readily visible human remains. In the mile-long debris field, they also found a shirt sleeve, a sock and some small bones, possibly from a foot, Dial said.

The state medical examiner will extract fingerprints from the hand, and the prints will be compared to those in a U.S. Army database, Dial said. Troopers will check records to see who might have visited Iran in 1946, he said.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator also visited the site on the 16,237-foot mountain.

The Civil Aeronautics Board, predecessor to the NTSB, never got a chance to investigate the crash because the wreckage ended up in an 8,000-foot glacial basin that's swept by avalanches. Only adventurers lured by rumors of gold aboard the plane tried to reach it.

Over the years, the glacier's advance moved some of the debris out of the danger zone. The debris is small and highly fragmented, said Jim Labelle, NTSB chief in Alaska. The investigator examined two propeller assemblies and an engine. The propellers "were rotating at pretty good velocity when they impacted terrain," Labelle said.

Both the NTSB and troopers have no plans to return.

Millican and McGregor have hiked to the site, either solo or together, every year since 1995 and first spotted wreckage in 1997. All the rumors are just that, they said.

"This wreck has been remembered for the wrong way, for a legend of gold and not for the memory of 30 people who died," McGregor said.

The National Park Service has closed the site to visitors for 60 days to determine what level of protection it needs.

The two pilots believe they've brought some closure by verifying the end of 30 men. At least two relatives of those who died said they felt the opposite.

"It's a reopening. I've been crying. I've been crying," said Dorothy Denman of Anchorage.

Denman said her uncle, August Koistinen, was aboard Flight 4422. Koistinen was a single man in his mid-30s with 11 siblings, all but one of whom served in World War II, she said.

Holly Byerly, 47, of Fairbanks also had an uncle aboard the plane. Robert John Rabich was 24, ex-Navy, a merchant marine who had made the same trip to China several times before - to deliver cargo vessels - and was headed home to New York. It was supposed to be his last trip.

"All of this is absolutely amazing to me," said Byerly.

"It had become history, and now - look at all the things I've learned today," she said. "I didn't know about the (rumors of) gold, about a fireball tumbling down the mountain. It's a closing and an opening too."