Reflecting on National POW/MIA Recognition Day, it seems a fitting time to take stock of the search for Lt. John Pritchard and Petty Officer First Class Benjamin Bottoms who have been missing in action since World War II. For more than 2 years the Office of Aviation Forces has been hunting for clues to the whereabouts of these heroes and their downed Grumman J2F Duck.
The search began as Master Chief Petty Officer John Long, Aircrew Program Manager, was tasked with sifting through mountains of historical records. Eyewitness accounts, radio transcripts and message traffic clearly put the plane in the vicinity of Koge Bay on the Southeast Coast of Greenland.
In the fall of 2008 a plane equipped with sensors capable of penetrating the thick ice in the area uncovered several potential targets. One in particular stood out against the surrounding ice and a small team was assembled in Sept. 2009 to travel to the location and confirm the anomaly.
Equipped with ground-penetrating radar, the team indeed confirmed an anomaly in the same place revealed by the previous over-flight. Whether this was the missing crew and their plane could only be discovered by getting down into the ice and seeing what was actually there.
Fast forward to this year, another team was dispatched to do just that. After re-locating the anomaly multiple holes were melted into the ice around the target and their contents were viewed remotely by video camera. Unfortunately the anomaly did not turn out to be the nearly 70-year-old wreckage.
Undaunted, the team expanded its search outward to other targets while they were still on the ice cap. The GPR team crisscrossed the ice looking for any trace of the plane. GPS beacons were implanted in the ice to learn about its movement. And in the evenings the 10-person team poured over historical documents for more context to their search.
One clue in particular, a map drawn by Col. Bernt Balchen who overflew the Duck wreckage shortly after the crash, points to a search area where the team was unable to reach with sensor equipment during this trip. The Office of Aviation Forces hopes to arrange an over-flight of this area and others with a sensorized aircraft as the search continues.
As this case unfolds, one thing is certain: this country remains committed to bringing all of its heroes home and they won’t stop the search until every one of them is returned.