After 62 years, an airman from Pennsylvania is coming home.
The Department of Defense announced Wednesday that it had recovered and identified the body of Air Force Staff Sgt. James Ray and 16 others who died in a C-124 Globemaster plane crash in Alaska on Nov. 22, 1952. A search continues for 35 other servicemen who were aboard the flight.
Ray's only daughter, Jaime Ray Swift, never met her father, since his plane crashed three months before she was born. Though her family is from Worthington, Pennsylvania, Swift was born in Mobile, Ala., after her father went missing.
“I'm in total shock and disbelief,” Swift said Wednesday from her home in Pensacola, Florida. “I just can't believe they were able to find him after all these years.”
The family plans to bring Ray's remains home for funeral services at Snyder-Crissman Funeral Home, Worthington. Burial will be done at a July 5 ceremony at the Worthington United Presbyterian Cemetery.
Ray died when his plane crashed on its way to Elmendorf Air Force Base. The search for the wreck was delayed in 1952 by bad weather and ultimately turned up none of the bodies of the dead servicemen on board.
The search for the missing plane picked up steam again in 2000, when Tampa Bay resident Tonja Anderson-Dell attempted to get a flag for her grandmother, Dorothy Anderson, in memory of her grandfather, Airman Isaac Anderson, who also died in the crash.
She wrote her congressmen and senators for information about the plane crash and recovery efforts and dedicated her a large part of her life to finding her grandfather's remains.
“I got a copy of the accident report and thought, if there's enough time, energy and money, anything is feasible,” Anderson-Dell said from her home. “I believe you should never leave the fallen behind.”
The report said military officials flew over the site and were unable to find any evidence of the crash. She continued to pressure elected officials to keep looking for the plane, she said.
In June 2012, an Alaska National Guard Black Hawk helicopter spotted the plane's wreckage during a training mission over the Colony Glacier near Mt. Gannett and a recovery mission operation began. It took two years of DNA testing remains before the 17 servicemen were identified. Anderson-Dell's grandfather was not among those found. Air Force First Lt. William L. Turner, who will be buried in Couldersport, was the only other airman from Pennsylvania whose body has been recovered.
Anderson-Dell said it's a bittersweet moment knowing the 17 men will be going home but 35 others remain missing.
“My grandfather is still missing, and maybe God made it this way so I'd continue my fight,” Anderson-Dell said. “I'm pretty sure not all of them will come home, but we have to keep on looking and fighting.”