Duck Hunt – September 2009 Expedition Photos

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If you’ve been following our coverage of the search for two missing World War II-era Coast Guardsmen you know that the Coast Guard sent a team to Greenland last September to search for the crash site.  Their journey began at Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., where they boarded an HC-130J and flew into the tiny village of Kulusuk on the west Coast of Greenland.  From there they had to take a helicopter to another remote village, Tasiilaq, which was their base of operations for the trip.

One of the helicopters the team chartered from Air Greenland for the search sits at the heliport in Tasiilaq.  (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
One of the helicopters the team chartered from Air Greenland for the search sits at the heliport in Tasiilaq. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)

The flight into Tasilaq went up and over a sharp ridge and between two towering peaks thousands of feet high.  It was plain to see how treacherous flying here would have been during World War II without modern equipment.

The population there is less tha 2,000.
The population of Tasiilaq is less than 2,000. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
A chain of steep, jagged mountains runs the entire length of the west coast of Greenland.  (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
A chain of steep, jagged mountains runs nearly the entire length of Greenland's west coast. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)

After arriving the team began going over the logistics of the trip out to the site.  Making sure they were headed to the right spot was only part of the this.  Safety was a huge concern—beginning with the weather.  Foul conditions blow in without warning in a matter of minutes and could have grounded their helicopter and forced them to spend the night on the freezing ice cap nearly 100 miles from the closest town.  They also had to bring firearms in case they ran into a polar bear, which are known for attacking humans there.  Probably the largest threat was the ice itself.  Deep fissures in the ice are sometimes hundreds of feet deep and covered by a thin layer of ice that can give way without warning when stepped on.

Members of the team review charts and photos of the presumed crash site.  (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
Members of the team review charts and photos of the presumed crash site. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
The trip out to the ice cap required hundreds of pounds of gear.  (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
The trip out to the ice cap required hundreds of pounds of gear. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)

In order to avoid the weak spots in the ice the team used long poles to poke the ice ahead of them as they walked.  They could here the water rushing like an underground river in the cracks beneath them that they could not see.

The team inches their way across the treacherous ice scanning for the wreckage.  (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
The team inches their way across the treacherous ice scanning for the wreckage. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
Operating the ground penetrating radar required three people.  (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
Operating the ground penetrating radar required three people. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)

Matt Benson from Boulder Associates in Colorado was the specialist in charge of the ground penetrating radar.  The setup was controlled via a laptop.  Because of the intense glare from the ice, he operated it from beneath a sweatshirt draped over his head.  Ahead of him, Rafid Tuma moved the two planks that sent the radar signal into the ice as Gary Larkins led the way testing the ice.  Tuma and Larkins are Air Pirates, a crew with extensive experience with aircraft salvage, even in Greenland.

Benson and Larkins go over the GPR data after returning from the ice cap.  (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
Benson and Larkins go over the GPR data after returning from the ice cap. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
The anomaly in the ice they believe may be the missing plane is visible in the lower right portion of the GPR data shown here.  (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)
The anomaly in the ice they believe may be the missing plane is visible in the lower right portion of the GPR data shown here. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)

After their second day on the ice, the team went over the GPR data that evening in the lobby of their hotel.  There was some discussion over how likely it was that they had found the long lost duck.  They were all cautiously optimistic but Larkins, who has recovered nearly 100 planes, said unequivocally that this was the missing plane.

“Everything points to this spot,” he said.  Maybe this summer we’ll find out if he was right.

The team poses with the Elizabeth City air crew at the Kulusuk Airport befor eleaving Greenland.
The team poses with the Elizabeth City air crew at the Kulusuk Airport before leaving Greenland. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Bender)

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