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Paperback Final Flight: The Mystery of a WWII Plane Crash and the Frozen Airmen in the High Sierra Book

ISBN: 0899974759

ISBN13: 9780899974750

Final Flight: The Mystery of a WWII Plane Crash and the Frozen Airmen in the High Sierra

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Book Overview

In October 2005, two mountaineers climbing above Mendel Glacier in the High Sierra finds the mummified remains of a man in a WW II uniform, entombed in the ice. The "Iceman" discovery creates a media storm which draws author Peter Stekel to investigate and stumble upon the case of a navigation training flight crew missing since 1942. Early attempts at recovery are thwarted due to empty graves, botched records, bad weather, bad luck, and bad timing...

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

Bringing the boys home

"About a hundred feet from the engine, I saw something dark, leaning over a boulder like a dead tree ... The first thing I noticed was a gold ring on his finger. His fingers were curled ... ­He wore a shredded sweater, hanging from his body. Blackened skin. Blond hair, tight waves. Crushed skull. I looked up into his face. Good teeth. My immediate thought was: this is a real person." - Peter Stekel, on finding the body of Glenn Munn On November 18, 1942, a U.S. Army Air Force Beech 18 AT-7 Navigator departed Mather Field east of Sacramento, CA on a training flight. The crew numbered four: pilot (2nd Lt. William R. Gamber) and three air-cadet navigators (John Melvin Mortenson, Leo Mustonen, Ernest Glenn Munn). Several hours later, the flight was overdo and presumed down. No wreckage was found by the Army during searches over the next several weeks, and the four men were eventually declared dead. In September 1947, two University of California students hiking in the Sierra Nevada Range with friends discovered airplane wreckage on the remote Mendel Glacier at the northern extremity of Kings Canyon National Park west of Bishop, CA. Three subsequent attempts by the Army to recover bodies - once in 1947 and twice in 1948 - failed, though the wreckage was identified as the missing Beech 18. In October 1948, a funeral was conducted by the Army at the Golden National Cemetery in San Bruno, CA for the crew and a headstone memorializing the four was erected over a common grave. (Apparently this was to provide closure for the families in the absence of any identifiable remains.) On October 15, 2005, two hikers on Mendel Glacier discovered a body entombed in the ice next to an undeployed parachute. The corpse proved to be that of Leo Mustonen. The story of the missing Beech 18 and the discovery of Mustonen's body captured the interest of the experienced Sierra hiker, Peter Stekel. On August 15, 2007, Stekel and a companion discovered another body buried among the icy rocks of the glacier, also with an unopened parachute. This second corpse proved to be that of Glenn Munn. FINAL FLIGHT is Stekel's meticulously researched story of the incident from the plane's departure from Mather Field to its disappearance to the unsuccessful recovery efforts to the eventual discovery of the two bodies to a painstaking reconstruction of the circumstances that resulted in the crash. FINAL FLIGHT incorporates forty-four photos and several maps. Stekel's reportage is laudably comprehensive. His narrative includes a summary of the Army's original report of the incident and its various recovery efforts in 1947 and 1948, a description of the Beech 18 AT-7, a recounting of the early lives and Air Force training and brief careers of the four dead fliers, reference to other airplane crashes in the Sierra Nevada Range that illustrate the particular hazards of flying over that terrain, and an explanation of the treacherous weather and wind currents to be found over the peaks. F

History Rediscovered

In 2005, the mummified remains of a WWII aviator was found on a glacier in the High Sierras. Peter Stekel, a writer and mountain climber long familiar with the mountain range, sensed a mystery and decided to look into the matter more thoroughly. In an attempt to find the wreckage, he and his fellow climbing partner located not only debris but a second mummy from the same crash. And so began Stekel's journey to uncover who these airmen were and how they came to their unfortunate fate. Stekel does a remarkable job of dissecting the accident and providing information about the geological and weather factors that contributed to the crash. He goes to great detail in providing information regarding WWII aviation, military training, and the miliary's policies regarding fatal accidents. He also manages to clear up some innacuracies and deliberate deceptions regarding the reporting and documentation of this specific crash. By providing biographies of the young men who were lost in this crash as well as providing some disturbing information regarding the mortality rates during WWII in battle and in training, this story translates as both highly personal but also far too commonplace for the era. Well researched and written, this was a great tale of life and loss tinged with mystery.

Four men lost in time

Final flight starts out as the story of four men that lost their lives on November 18th 1942 in a flight training accident but Final flight really becomes so much more then that. Author Peter Stekel gives the reader a look into who William Gember, Leo Mustonen, Glen Munn, and John Mortenson where, how they grew up Stekel introduces the reader to several members of their families and their fond recollections. of the men. Stekel really brings the identities of these men home making them larger then life. At one point during the book I was thinking to my self that it would be nice if everyone that lost their lives in the military had an autobiography like what Peter Stekel has done for these men. Stekel interview as many relatives as he could find. They talked about the despair of loosing a loved one, parents waiting for the son that never comes home, a sister inconsolably misses her brother. Not only does Stekel pay respect to these for men but to all who lost thier lives defending America. Aside from the stories of these four souls Stekel does an excellent job of detailing the type of aircraft they were flying (Beech 18 AT 7), it's nuances what types of training it was used for. Stekel talks about the training these men went through, the long days at military facilities. Stekel interviews many WWII veterans and so eloquently puts their words to paper as they reflect on that time period in the military. Several people talk about what it was like to fly the Beech18 AT7 Stekel is one of the people that discovered the body of Glen Munn entombed in ice in 2007, Leo Mustonen was discovered in 2005. Stekel talks about being able to bring closure to a family after so many years. One of the helpful things that Stekel does is discuss the terrain of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and goes in great detail about the weather patterns in the high sierras. Stekel also discusses different types of glaciers, how the are formed and how they move. Throughout the book Stekel develops some theories about how this crew could have gotten so far off of their expected course. Stekel follows many leads, some turn out to be fruitless and some very plausible. Unfortunately he had to weed through some contradicting weather reports for that day. Weather had to play some part in the crews decision to be so far off course. The military organized some search parties but came up with nothing, some hikers discovered some plane wreckage in 1947 and that was it. Families searched on their own for many years but not until 2005 was the body of Leo Mustonen discovered by some hikers some 13,000 feet up in a glacier. There are still two men out there, two families waiting for closure What I expected to get and got from Final flight was a touching story about four men and their families, What I wasn't expecting was an education on weather patterns, the Sierra Nevada's and the historical information about flying military planes in the 40's Stekel has done his research here and

Just doing their job

Peter Stekel's `Final Flight' is filled with respect from the first moment, for not only the airman he found, the one hikers before him discovered, the other men of the flight, but to all soldiers especially those that have given that final gift to their country. In fact I wish he would have made his final chapter, `Please Remember Me' the prologue, for those who have never talked to an airman or soldier from WWII to understand what they will read in this book- in a better way. These soldiers, as so many were; were boys from the middle of the country, products of the depression. He does a marvelous job, not only in this final chapter but throughout the book of conveying these 'boys' feelings( that is what they were, and were called). They, for the most part had never flown, but flying captured their imagination. Many were overwhelmed at the amount of clothes they were issued, having existed before, with, if they were lucky 2 changes of clothes, and many times not enough food. In combat, they were just doing their jobs, assuming that they would not make it through the war; that today was what occurred and the future might not exist. Stekel points out the inexperience, even the qualified pilots had, the number of fatal accidents in WWII were more than combat deaths. The research is so thorough that Stekel investigated the weather of the day of the crash, spoke to pilots who are experienced in flying the High Sierras, and the Twin Beech 18. He delves into what the navigators were taught then and the differences now, the difference in what we know about air movements. He contacted the families, visited them and also explains the glacier and the wilderness surroundings. There are pictures and maps and a web site for further investigation and information. It would have been better if he could have diagramed or shown pictures of some of the terms and geographic features, such as sun cups and bergschrund, so that non-climbers and those of us that are not geologists could have a better image. The lives of these men of `The Final Flight' and flying itself are captured so well, that you will know them and their times. This book is skillfully investigated and becomes a personal review of not only the men and the flight; but as he says in explaining the purpose in writing the book:" what my country thinks about its war dead. I learned what closure and sacrifice really mean....These boys who marched to war and never came home live through us." This book would interest those who want to learn of these men, WWII, aeronautics, even the wilderness area.
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