WWII Coast Guard Grumman Duck crash site located after 70 years

An expedition team displays the POW/MIA flag in honor of the expedition to find the crash site of a WWII Coast Guard Grumman Duck rescue aircraft near Koge Bay, Greenland, Aug. 28, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.

An expedition team displays the POW/MIA flag in honor of the expedition to find the crash site of a WWII Coast Guard Grumman Duck rescue aircraft near Koge Bay, Greenland, Aug. 28, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.

With contributions from Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta Disco.

Two years ago Compass first brought you the story of two Coast Guard aviators who died in Greenland attempting to rescue a downed B-17 crew during World War II. Their bodies were never recovered but an exhaustive search has ensued in the decades since.

Today, the Defense Department’s Joint POW/MIA  Accounting Command announced that an expedition team – comprised of U.S. Coast Guard servicemembers, scientists and explorers – has produced sufficient evidence that the crash site of the Grumman Duck has been found beneath the ice near Koge Bay, Greenland.

Members of the expedition team transport an ice melting machine over a crevasse near Koge Bay, Greenland, Aug. 29, 2012.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.

Members of the expedition team transport an ice melting machine over a crevasse near Koge Bay, Greenland, Aug. 29, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.

By using historical information, ground penetrating radar, a magnetometer and metal detection equipment, the expedition team isolated the location where the aircrew crashed on Nov. 29, 1942. The team then melted five six-inch-wide holes deep into the ice and lowered a specially designed camera scope. At approximately 38 feet below the ice surface in the second hole, the team observed black cables consistent with wiring used in WWII-era J2F-4 amphibious Grumman aircraft.

Further analysis of video from the camera scope and photographs captured by a member of the expedition team revealed additional aircraft components similar to those found in the engine area of the J2F-4 Grumman Duck.

For nearly three years, crews have been working together on this project researching historical documentation about the last flight of U.S. Coast Guard Lt. John Pritchard, Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin Bottoms and U.S. Army Air Force Cpl. Loren Howarth aboard the Duck.

“The three men aboard this aircraft were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” said Cmdr. Jim Blow, from the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Aviation Forces. “The story of the Grumman Duck reflects the history and the mission of the Coast Guard, and by finding the aircraft we have begun to repay our country’s debt to them.”

The expedition team melts ice at the wreckage of the WWII Coast Guard J2F-4 Grumman Duck rescue aircraft, Aug. 29, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.

The expedition team melts ice at the wreckage of the WWII Coast Guard J2F-4 Grumman Duck rescue aircraft, Aug. 29, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.

Information was obtained, analyzed and cross-referenced to formulate the primary points of interest to search during the course of the Coast Guard-sponsored expedition.

Once at the remote location on Greenland’s southeast coast, the joint teams, consisting of safety personnel and scientific analysts, searched 10 points of interest, nine with negative results.

It wasn’t until the end of the seven-day expedition when the team, utilizing the ground penetrating radar, swept an additional historical position and made the strongest radar contact. This ultimately led to the location of the Duck.

The Coast Guard is coordinating efforts with the Joint POW/MIA Personnel Accounting Command on future actions and we will keep you updated here at Compass as the case continues to unfold.

Original caption: "THE TAKE OFF: The Coast Guard amphibian plane (J2F) has been put over the side, and Lieutenant John A. Pritchard, Jr. and Radioman Benjamin A. Bottoms, ready for the take-off, scan the Greenland icebergs over which they have spent so many hours of hazardous flying in their single-engine plane.  They successfully rescued two of the U.S. Army fliers and met their death in an attempt to rescue the [sic] third flier."; no date; Photo No. (Rel. No.) 06-19-43 (03); photographer not listed.

Original caption: “THE TAKE OFF: The Coast Guard amphibian plane (J2F) has been put over the side, and Lieutenant John A. Pritchard, Jr. and Radioman Benjamin A. Bottoms, ready for the take-off, scan the Greenland icebergs over which they have spent so many hours of hazardous flying in their single-engine plane. They successfully rescued two of the U.S. Army fliers and met their death in an attempt to rescue the [sic] third flier.”; no date; Photo No. (Rel. No.) 06-19-43 (03); photographer not listed.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/kurt.jahnke.9 Kurt Jahnke

    We honor our fallen brothers for their sacrifice. Thanks for never giving up on them.
    K. Jahnke, LCDR Ret-2 USCGR

  • http://www.facebook.com/jay.gammill.3 Jay Gammill

    The “Take Off” picture was taken by PhoM-1/C Howard S.Gammill USNR. He was the ships photographer and only Navy man on the Northland for two years (1942-1943). I
    posted 340 pictures, in two albums, from his Northland scrapbook on my Facebook
    page (Jay Gammill) in February 2011. Album 2, photo #121: J2F4 being craned off
    ship. Photo #122: Take Off. Album 1, photo #47: J2F4 Nose Art (my father is in
    picture). Photo #106: J2F4 rudder number. Photo #193: Injured person being
    removed from aircraft.
    God bless you for finding the aircraft. If my father were still alive he would be in tears. He often mentioned how well liked Lt. Pritchard and Petty Officer Bottoms were on the ship. I’m sure there are pictures of them in my albums. Please feel free to use any that may be of help. All pictures have been furnished to the Coast Guard Historical Office.