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Air Force submits plan for recovering '52 Alaska plane crash, 'boots on ice in 2023'

A month after U.S. Rep Bill Huizenga's defense policy bill amendment was approved, the Air Force has a plan to recover servicemen's remains from Gamble Chalk 1.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Two Muskegon County families, who's loved ones died when their military plane crashed in 1952, are closer to closure. 

Their remains are still in Alaska, as 13 ON YOUR SIDE reported in an Our Michigan Life story last year, but that story got the attention of lakeshore congressman Bill Huizenga, and now, the U.S. Air Force has submitted a recovery plan to hopefully bring the soldier's remains, home.

"Family members will not be around forever and we want to make sure that they've got the answers and the ability to give a proper goodbye," said Rep. Bill Huizenga, (R) Michigan. "For that to happen, the U.S. Air Force needed its feet held to the fire."

On Sept. 23, the U.S. House voted to approve a bipartisan defense policy bill that would require the Air Force to report on its plans and timeline for recovering a C-119 airplane that crashed on an Alaska mountain nearly 70 years ago. 

Three weeks later, the Air Force submitted its plan, which includes a recovery program in Alaska, beginning sometime in the summer of 2023.

"They presented me with the plan and they're also presenting it to the families," said Huizenga. "Anybody can write a plan, but the question is, are they going to follow that plan."

Huizenga says he plans to hold the Air Force accountable every step of the way. He's quickly generating support from several members of the senate, including Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa — both of whom serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee — as well as with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing. 

"The larger the circle we can make this, the better off we're going to be," said Huizenga. "We know the clock is ticking because many of the surviving family members won't be around much longer."

The plane's call sign was Gamble Chalk 1, which was a military troop transport aircraft that veered off course during a training flight and crashed into the ridge on Mt. Silverthrone, killing all 19 servicemen, including two from Muskegon County: U.S. Air Force Corporal, Gail Daugherty and U.S. Army Private First Class, Raymond Housler.  

A portion of the plan, drafted by USAF Colonel Chip W. Hollinger, reads in-part:

 "AFMAO has been working deliberately with Alaskan Command (ALCOM) to develop a plan for a boots-on-ice mission in the summer of 2022. ALCOM led the initial planning conference in late July with a focus on conducting a reconnaissance flight of Eldridge Glacier in mid-August. Due to weather delays, the reconnaissance flight was postponed, but was successfully conducted on August 30, 2021. The reconnaissance team was able to identify key factors that will assist in the planning process such as terrain features, an area for a weather station and landing zones, elevation, and approximate recovery range. A follow-up planning conference was held in late September to discuss the resources, training, and key personnel required for the planned boots-on-ice mission in 2022. It’s important to emphasize that next year’s boots-on-ice mission doesn’t mean recovery; search and recovery operations are projected for August 2023 in accordance with current planning milestones. Our ongoing planning efforts will continue to ensure all parties involved are equipped to support in the safest, most effective manner. "

Surviving family members of the servicemen from Muskegon are thrilled with the news that a concrete date for recovery has been determined.

"We're all excited," said Charles Daugherty, whose been waiting nearly 70 years to bury his brother, Gail. "For years we've been trying but no action has been done, but finally, progress is being made."

Charles, 78, lost two of his older siblings in late 2020. He and his sister, Claudette Bethke, are all that is left from a family who has wanted to experience closure for decades.

"My sister and I talk about this all the time," added Charles. "It would be wonderful if they could find Gail's dog tags, or maybe a tooth, so we could have something of his to bury."

Huizenga says he plans to garner more bipartisan support for the issue and will continue to hold the Air Force accountable, insuring they honor the language they put forth in their plan.

"It's the work that every year when the Appropriations Bills come up, we're able to make sure that we take the opportunity to say, 'Hey, Department of Defense, are we still on track,'" said Huizenga. "We'll try to pound them into doing the right thing."

Huizenga adds that his next goal will be to see if it's possible for the USAF to move its proposed 2023 recovery operation up so the program in Alaska can begin sooner. 

In August 2020, 13 ON YOUR SIDE produced an 'Our Michigan Life' report that told the story of the two local servicemen killed in a military plane crash in Alaska in 1952. It also explored the lack of anything being done by the U.S. Government, in the 70 years since, to recover the victim's remains.

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