The Grumman Duck, with Pritchard and Bottoms aboard
The Grumman Duck, with Pritchard and Bottoms aboard
Coast Guard archive photo

In November 1942, a US Coast Guard plane set forth on a daring rescue over the frozen tundra of Greenland, in search of a seven-member United States Army Air Force crew that had crashed.

In a single-engine Grumman Duck aircraft, Lieutenant John Pritchard Jr. and Radioman Benjamin Bottoms made an unprecedented landing on the Greenland ice cap to rescue two members of the B-17’s crew. But the next day, after rescuing a third crew member, the Duck encountered whiteout conditions and crashed, leaving no survivors.

Seven decades later, an expedition team has discovered the plane’s wreckage, buried in a glacier on Greenland’s southeast coast, the Coast Guard announced Monday. Using radar and metal detection equipment, the team found black cables, consistent with wiring used in the aircraft, nearly 40 feet below the surface. Further analysis of video from a camera scope revealed additional aircraft components, the military said.

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The 17-member expedition team consisted of scientists and explorers from the Coast Guard and North South Polar Inc., which specializes in aircraft recoveries.

“The three men aboard this aircraft were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” Commander Jim Blow of the Coast Guard Office of Aviation Forces said in a statement. “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 find followed nearly three years of research.

Bottoms, a Georgia native, was assigned to the Coast Guard Air Station in Salem, Mass. in October 1939, according to a Coast Guard biography. In early 1942 he became radioman of the Duck as part of the wartime Greenland patrol.