(Kulusuk, Greenland) – Analysis of new ground penetrating radar data by scientists suggests the 76-year-old mystery of a United States Coast Guard amphibious biplane and its missing crew that vanished in a storm over Greenland in World War II is one pivotal step closer to finally being solved. 

 On November 29th, 1942 the Coast Guard responded to the distress call of an American B-17 bomber that had crashed on the Greenland icecap. While performing a daring rescue of that downed crew, the Coast Guard Grumman J2F-4 “Duck” disappeared in a winter storm with Lt. John Pritchard, radioman Benjamin Bottoms, and U.S. Army Air Corps Cpl. Loren Howarth aboard. The plane was observed on the ice for several years, but then disappeared below the surface as snowfall gradually buried it.  Lt John Pritchard and radioman Benjamin Bottoms are the only two Coast Guard service members who remain missing in action. The events of the crash and rescue attempt were chronicled by Mitchell Zuckoff in the NY Times bestseller, Frozen in Time.

2018 GEaR Inc. Radar Survey

2018 GEaR Inc. Radar Survey

 An Alaska-based nonprofit research organization, Global Exploration and Recovery (GEaR), is leading the hunt for the plane and its crew.  During their 2018 expedition, the team focused its survey on an area of the glacier that is consistent with historical records of where the plane crashed and how it might have moved over time in the shifting ice. No prior missions investigated the vicinity where GEaR discovered the anomaly. Analysis of radar data suggests that the anomaly is the same size as the missing plane, is at a depth within the expected range, and is not a natural feature like an air pocket, rock, or crevasse.  

 “This is the most interesting evidence we found in our entire 2018 survey,” said Dr. Jaana Gustafsson, the geophysicist with the organization whose radar survey work revealed the anomaly in the ice, “But we need to drill down to it to determine exactly what it is. It’s promising given the size and depth of what we’re looking for.”

 GEaR President John Bradley explained the context of the discovery.

 “The metaphor of a needle in a haystack doesn’t even come close to describing the magnitude of our search. What we found in our last survey is the most exciting lead in a mission that has spanned years and been a rollercoaster of emotions for both our team and for the families of the missing men.”

 Vice President Francis Marley, a search and recovery expert who also serves with the Alaska National Guard, described the next steps in the mission.

 “As good as our radar data may be, we can’t say definitively that we’ve found the plane until we get our eyes under the ice. This result moves the search ahead by leaps and bounds but we need to get back out there to verify the results.”

 GEaR is preparing an expedition for May 2020 to return to the ice and obtain visual evidence of the anomaly. They will use a custom ice drill, built by project partner Kovacs, to bore holes through the ice to the object and inspect it with a remote-controlled video camera. GEaR coordinates its work with the Coast Guard and maintains close relationships with the families of the missing men.

 The GEaR team has been involved with the search for these missing American WWII heroes since 2010. Their approach draws on “light and fast” mountaineering techniques for their expeditions in order to work efficiently and safely in the harsh and unpredictable arctic conditions where summer temperatures can be frigid and 70mph windstorms can last for days. 

 Nick Bratton, Chief Operating Officer for GEaR, explains why they keep going back in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

 “What those men risked in 1942 to save their fellow Americans embodies the true spirit of the Coast Guard. If it had been us stranded out there on the ice they would have come to our aid, no matter the danger. We owe it to those men and their families to go after them and bring them home.”

Armistice Day

John F Desmond III

John F Desmond III

The anniversary marking the end of WWI started as Armistice Day and after WWII was changed to recognize the passing of all American war hero's.  In the mid 50's the holiday was changed to Veterans Day to help recognize all veterans who have served in the military during war or peacetime.  

While growing up, my mother told me stories of both her parents including her father's college days at Columbia University playing football and other sports.  My grandfather, John F Desmond III, served in the military during WWII but died at a young age soon thereafter.  

Growing up, I look over his achievements and all that he accomplished.  I wonder what he would say to me if he were here today.  Working with people that share a common interest and passion to achieve our mission at GeAR is a big story and one that I wish that I could have shared with him.  

John Bradley and Francis Marley

John Bradley and Francis Marley

GEaR is a small team made up of individuals from different walks of life around the world.  Francis Marley is one of our team members who has a broad-based background.  His military ties offer a form of structure that helps drive the people that work with him.  His relationship with me is more than just a fellow teammate or life coach.  He's become a life-time friend.  

To all the veterans active or inactive today I thank you for your service to this country.  


Desert, Jungle, and Desk

Nicholas Bratton

Nicholas Bratton

To mark Veterans Day, the members of GEaR are sharing stories of their connections to the military and what the significance of the holiday is to them. This post is the first in a series that will conclude on November 11.

By Nick Bratton, Chief Operating Officer

Important influences in my childhood were my grandfathers, Vincent Bratton and Joseph Schneller. Both served in the Second World War in different ways. Vincent Bratton was from Durham in northern England and he served in the British Army. During the earlier years of the war he fought Rommel in the deserts of North Africa. Later, after the Allies had prevailed in that theater, he was posted to the jungles of Burma.

Here he commanded a prisoner camp where a Japanese battalion surrendered to him. In a show of honor, the Japanese commander presented Vincent with his boots and his sword. The boots vanished over the years, but the sword was handed down to me, which I still have along with Vincent's medals and other memorabilia.

Joseph Schneller had poor eyesight that prevented him from serving on the front lines, however he was an intelligent man and enlisted because he understood there were other contributions he could make to his country that didn't involve fighting.  He was posted to an administrative position in Little Rock, Arkansas.  He went about his work in his trademark quiet and efficient way, and after the Allied victory he used to joke "I commanded a desk for the entire war and never lost a single man."  

What I admire about my grandfathers is that although they came from very different backgrounds (Vincent from the depressed industrial north of England, Joseph an immigrant from today's Czech Republic) they understood the larger meaning of their service and they served honorably in different ways.  They were fortunate to survive the war, and Vincent went on to serve in the armies of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, earning further distinctions.  

In an era where our society is increasingly insulated from the wars we fight, I believe it is important that we recognize the contributions and sacrifices that our armed services make in order to protect our democracy and national interests.  Not just on Veterans Day, but every time I meet an active duty or retired service member, I make a point to thank them for their contributions.  The daring and sacrifice of John Pritchard, Benjamin Bottoms, and Loren Howarth are the highest examples of service.  This is an occasion to reflect on what they did and reaffirm our commitment to bringing them home. 

“Yes. I know.”

Jaana Gustafsson

Jaana Gustafsson

What does it take to find a plane in the ice? One key piece of GEaR’s strategy to find the missing Duck is ground-penetrating radar (GPR). Our GPR gives us a rough picture of what lies beneath the ice. Signals from the GPR reflect off surfaces within the glacier and different objects have individual signatures. Bedrock, crevasses, air pockets, liquid water, and higher-density ice all look a little different to the radar. So does a plane. Interpreting the radar data requires skill, experience, and a deep understanding of glacier dynamics. Fortunately we have the best person for the job.

Dr. Jaana Gustafsson is GEaR’s geophysicist. Based out of Stockholm, Sweden, she brings a wealth of experience to the project. It may be fair to say that Jaana is the most important member of the team. During the 2012 search Jaana identified a radar anomaly as a storm approached Koge Bay, leading to the discovery of what is likely wreckage from the missing plane. This pivotal finding was enough evidence for the Defense Department to continue supporting the mission. The moment of discovery is described by Mitch Zuckoff in his best seller, Frozen in Time.

Who is this woman that made such an important contribution to the Duck Hunt? Jaana is originally from Finland and is a full-time geophysicist specializing in arctic and glacial research. Her work has taken her to the northern tip of Sweden, far above the Arctic Circle and to the high altitude glaciers of the Himalaya in Nepal. Jaana recently presented findings from her latest research on the thermal structure of Himalayan glaciers at the 2016 annual conference of the European Geophysicists Union in Vienna. We are excited to have such an internationally recognized expert in the field leading our radar survey.

When she isn’t tirelessly towing her radar across icy arctic expanses Jaana leads a quiet life in Sweden with her family. Her husband is a snow scientist specializing in avalanche dynamics (of course) and she has two daughters. Jaana loves to retire to a comfortable corner with a book and glass of wine and spends long summer days in Gotland with the family on their sailboat. She balances her precise scientific interests with a different kind of artistic precision: Jaana is a silversmith, crafting beautiful jewelry in her home studio.  

Just as important as her scientific expertise is Jaana’s valuable friendship. The four of us at GEaR are friends before all else. The bonds we share with Jaana are forged from laughter during 70-mph windstorms, stories about her family, her dry Finnish wit, and her quick smile that lights up the mess tent. 

How did a Finn from Sweden become such an instrumental part of this mission? The story of Pritchard, Bottoms, and Howarth’s heroism transcends all nations and language. When she met Nancy Pritchard Jaana immediately understood the importance of what we are doing. Now we plan to return to continue the search. Thankfully we have the right team for the mission. As Jaana would say, “Yes. I know.”

Taking the Desert to the Icecap

At Global Exploration and Recovery we believe in challenging the status quo when it comes to recovery technology or technique.  This includes the most basic of skills that we’ve been using in the field for years, such as the rope techniques needed to descend into and ascend out of crevasses.

We recently learned about a new device that dramatically increases efficiency of raising objects from crevasses or confined spaces.  Curious to learn how it could improve on our traditional rope and pulley systems, we took a close look at it.  The folks at CMC Rescue have created a state of the art, portable artificial high directional (AHD) hoist called the Arizona Vortex.  This device was developed over many years of trial and error in the rugged Red Rock highland of northern Arizona.

GEaR’s Frank Marley along with Brian Horner (Learn To Return) had a chance to evaluate the Arizona Vortex recently and were impressed with its versatility and ease of set up. The device is configurable as a bipod, but it is the tripod configuration that is of interest to GEaR.                      

Whether the GEaR team needs to descend into a crevasse to investigate a historic clue, or ever needs to perform an ice rescue mission the “Vortex” could be a useful tool on the ice. The increase in speed, safety, and user friendliness that this system offers would be a valuable addition to our mission.  

Family First

Marc Storch

Marc Storch

Much has been said about the families of the 3 missing aviators who are the focus of our search. They are the reason Global Exploration and Recovery is leading the effort to find the men aboard the Duck.  We share the same goal: closure and the chance to lay their loved ones to rest on home soil with the honor they deserve.  Nancy Pritchard is the younger sister of the Duck’s pilot, John Pritchard, and has figured heavily in the coverage of the Duck Hunt, from Mitch Zuckoff’s authoritative work Frozen In Time to her Veterans Day interview also featuring GEaR’s Nick Bratton.

Since the Boston Globe coverage of the 2013 Greenland mission, the story of Cpl. Loren Howarth’s family has not received much attention. Until now.  GEaR recently had a chance to reconnect with Howarth’s family.  We heard memories of this brave young man, what his legacy means to his community, and why his relatives support GEaR.

Loren Howarth was a pivotal character in the fateful events of November, 1942.  He was the radio operator aboard the B-17 that crashed in eastern Greenland leading to the Duck’s involvement. The B-17's radio was damaged in the wreck and it was Howarth’s ingenuity, focus, and persistence that got it working again.  If not for his efforts with frozen fingers the men of the B-17 could never have called to the outside world.  Howarth’s fellow crewman would make it out.  He did not.

Meet Marc Storch of DeForest, Wisconsin.  Loren married Marc’s aunt, Irene. “Lolly”, as he was known, attended a teachers’ college in La Crosse with Marc’s dad.  When Marc’s parents married in 1941 they lived next door to the Howarth's in a boarding house Irene ran.  After America entered the war both Marc’s dad and Lolly applied to the Army Air Corps, but only Lolly was admitted.  After his loss Irene received Lolly’s Legion of Merit medal and passed it on to Marc.  

In the course of a varied professional career, Marc spent 14 years with the National Security Agency.  Through this work he saw many interesting sides to the world, some good and some bad.  “Back then the world was not as ambiguous of a place as it is today,” he explained.  During his stint with the NSA Marc worked alongside members of all the services.  “What they do to defend our security is something I will always appreciate.”  When Marc settled in DeForest he helped to establish a veterans’ park in town.

When asked about the significance of what Howarth did in 1942, Marc is emphatic.

“Lolly represents so many of the young men of that time who uprooted their lives and wanted to help the war effort.  He felt he had to do something.  Everyone in those days made sacrifices.  For Lolly it was never about glory.  The men on that B-17, searching for the cargo plane, they were only trying to save people just like them.  Through his actions he allowed others to be saved.  We should be willing to make some sacrifice to get him home.”  Marc is a firm believer in the importance of reuniting Lolly with his family.

“It’s about closure.  The fact that Lolly was so close to returning, that the Coast Guard was doing extraordinary things to bring him back, is amazing.  It’s important to mom, Lolly still exists to her as the polite, quiet young man she knew.  Anyone lost in a foreign field is never home.  I want Lolly to be rescued from the bleakness of that cold place.”

In spite of these unresolved issues, Marc had some heartening experiences to recount.  A few years back he tracked down Harry Spencer, the co-pilot of the B-17, in a nursing home in Dallas. Marc called him up and they talked about the war.

“Harry remembered Lolly, said he was one of the few men who was willing to gather snow for drinking water for the rest of them.  He recalled Lolly’s bravery, the countless hours spent trying to get the radio to work.  The warmth of those memories was so meaningful.”

GEaR asked Marc what his response would be if they did find the missing men.

“My first response would be joy from knowing the plane had been found. Even if just for one moment someone can stand and say ‘This is the spot where those three brave men were,’ that would be tremendous.”

In 2014 Lolly’s high school held a remembrance of him, hosting a ceremony on Memorial Day. Marc remains encouraged that so many people in the community still remember, still care, and want Lolly home.  With the support of the Storch family, Global Exploration and Recovery are committed to the discovery and return of these brave young men still missing in Greenland.


73 years, 4 families, 1 team

On November 29, 1942 three American service members vanished in a storm in eastern Greenland during one of the most daring rescue attempts in aviation history.  Today marks 73 years since Lt. John Pritchard and Radioman Benjamin Bottoms landed on a glacier in their ampibious biplane to retrieve crewmembers from a crashed B-17.  They took Cpl. Loren Howarth on board and flew off into an approaching storm.  

These men and the plane carrying them vanished beneath the snows of Greenland's winter, but their memory lives on and the quest to find them remains a pursuit of a few dedicated individuals.    

The families of these three missing men have not forgotten the bravery, generosity, and resourcefulness that exemplified their service during the war.  Nancy, the younger sister of pilot John Pritchard, recalled fond memories of her brother during a recent radio interview.  The families of Benjamin Bottoms and Loren Howarth also desire to see their loved ones returned to them after 73 years beneath the ice.  This is a long time to wait and much work remains to be done to find these men.  

The other family that is eager to see the recovery of the missing men is the men and women of today's Coast Guard.  The mission of the Duck is legend within the service and the spirit of Pritchard and Bottoms serves as inspiration to all Coast Guard aviators who have come after them.  These are the only 2 members who are missing in action and with 2016 marking the 100-year anniversary of Coast Guard aviation, the time is right to focus on finding them.  

Global Exploration and Recovery is the team to lead the search.  We are making preparations for a 2016 survey and are in close communication with the Coast Guard on the design of the search mission.  The breadth of support we have built through sponsorships and supporters is humbling and speaks to the significance of this work.  Having the backing of the families is a powerful motivator and keeps us going towards the goal of finding the men.    

We also have the support of a growing number of generous donors who are supporting our project by contributing to our crowdfunding campaign.  As we commemorate this somber occasion with respect and gratitude for the sacrifices of Pritchard, Bottoms, and Howarth we ask you to join us in this cause.  Please make a donation today and spread the word of this important project.  The members of all the families appreciate it.

Fund Us to Find Them

Imagine this:  you are sitting in the cockpit of an amphibious biplane in November 1942, about to take off from the frigid waters near the coast of Greenland.  You are going to fly to the site of a crashed B-17 and land your plane on the glacier to rescue the men aboard.  This has never been done before.  Whatever happens next is uncharted territory.  You are their best chance for survival.

Now, 73 years later, a team of scientists and explorers is planning to go to Greenland to search for 3 missing men.  That biplane, a Grumman Duck flown by the U.S. Coast Guard, went down in a storm in the middle of a heroic rescue mission.  It is buried under 40 feet of ice, along with Lt. John Pritchard, Radioman Benjamin Bottoms, and Cpl. Loren Howarth.  Global Exploration and Recovery is the search team.  Finding these men in 2016 is our mission.  You can help make it happen by contributing to our fundraising campaign.

We have established a positive working relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard over the course of 3 previous expeditions to Greenland.  They are enthusiastic that a team of experts from the private sector is pursuing this goal.  We have the support of the families of the missing men.  We have the skills, the experience, the capacity, and the relationships to locate the Duck and bring the men home.  We don’t have the money.

Global Exploration and Recovery is pursuing private funding to undertake this search mission in 2016.  Donations from people like you who appreciate the gravity of this project will help make it a success.  People who understand what it means to the relatives to see their loved ones brought back to be laid to rest on home soil.  We are doing this for the families.  You can help make it happen.  Thank you for contributing.  Even if you can’t contribute, please share the link to our campaign on your Facebook page, Tweet it, and tell your friends.  The more people who know about it, the better.

Planning for What's Possible

Things have been quiet at Global Exploration and Recovery recently, but we've been occupied behind the scenes with a wide range of preparations.  All four of us have been working steadily to advance towards the near term goal:  returning to Greenland for a survey mission in 2016.

John Bradley has continued to recruit sponsors to back our mission.  His persistence in reaching out to manufacturers, retailers, and other private sector businesses has yielded new fruitful partnerships.  He's also been honing his skills in areas that will be useful to our work:  rescue in confined spaces and both high and low angle scenarios, as well as expanding his medical certifications.  John has also been gathering input from sources in different fields whose expertise will be vital to planning our survey design and strengthening relationships with leaders in the community in Greenland.

Frank Marley has been busy with his military commitments, recently earning the gold standard in the German Armed Forces Proficiency assessment.  This is a prestigious test that U.S. Service members occasionally have the opportunity to take.  Frank has also prepared research plans to access some little-known archives that may contain valuable historical information about the Duck to inform our survey mission next year.

Jaana Gustafsson has been both on and off the radar - literally.  She's been in Nepal over the past several weeks working with a European glaciology team to conduct radar surveys on a glacier near Dhaulagiri, one of the world's fourteen 8,000m peaks.  Her summer research projects have also taken her to the northernmost reaches of Sweden and Norway.  Lessons she's learning from radar investigations in these environments will refine the techniques we use when we return to Greenland.

Nick Bratton has been in regular contact with the U.S. Coast Guard, discussing plans for a partnership in 2016.  Public-private partnerships are an area of interest for the government.  We have the capacity, skills, and resources to collaborate productively with our willing counterparts in the Coast Guard.  The recovery of the 3 missing men remains a high priority for the Coast Guard and they are thinking creatively about how to keep momentum for the mission strong.  Nick has also been leading GEaR's media strategy development.  

As the temperatures grow cooler this fall, look for things to start heating up with GEaR.  Many of the seeds we've been planting this year will bear fruit soon and we're excited to share our accomplishments with our loyal supporters.  Stay tuned!



Hope and Solidarity

Global Exploration and Recovery has been tracking the story of two missing teenagers in Florida, Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, who disappeared on July 24 during a fishing trip.  We wish for their safe return and our thoughts are with their families.  As the search has expanded during the past week we have been amazed by the outpouring of support, resources, and energy that professionals and volunteers alike have committed to the effort.  GEaR wants to recognize some notable contributions:

  • United States Coast Guard.  We work closely with our partners in the Coast Guard and have the deepest respect for the risks they take and the professionalism with which they conduct tireless searches in situations like this.  As a nation we are lucky to have such dedicated men and women patrolling our shores, ready to act on short notice.  We thank them for their leadership and experience in helping to find these missing boys.
  • Volunteers.  Searching a large area of the Atlantic Ocean is a complex undertaking.  Finding Austin and Perry will take a major, coordinated effort.  In this moment of need generous individuals and groups have stepped forward, often at their own expense, to offer diverse skills and resources in support of the search.  People from far and near have donated time, money, planes, boats, cars, homes, celebrity status, and fuel among other things to keep an intense search going.

There are more people to thank in this search than we can name, but we want to highlight the community of kindness that has drawn together from around the country to support the effort.  Even though GEaR is spread around the world we have contributed to the search and encourage others to do so, as well.


Waiting out the Winter

At GEaR we are honest with each other, honest with our partners, and honest with our supporters. It’s in the fabric of who we are and it’s a small way we can honor the memories of the men we’re working to bring home. Let’s be honest: things aren’t looking promising for a return trip to Greenland in 2015. We need to reflect on our approach to pursuing private funding for the project and learn from the experience. We also need to focus on the future.

Like the snows that swirl across the icecap in Greenland, the course of this mission has changed direction frequently and unexpectedly. Like the crew aboard the B-17 bomber PN9E that the men on the Duck found, we have a long winter ahead of us. And like those men, we must be resourceful, persistent, and patient to achieve our goals. For them it was escaping Greenland; for us it’s getting there.                                                                                                      

What have we achieved so far in 2015? We might not have raised the cash we needed to fund the survey mission, but we have made other noteworthy progress. We gained the support of generous and enthusiastic sponsors - too many to list here - who believe in our work and want to contribute to the mission. We have the support of the U.S. Coast Guard for our work and continue to cultivate positive working relationships with our partners in the service. Most importantly, we have the support of the families of the missing men. They are grateful for our efforts and we are motivated by their enthusiasm.                                                                             

The men aboard the B-17 who faced the fierce Greenlandic winter survived because they remained positive and proactive. It’s hard to be optimistic in the face of adversity, but it’s the best way to overcome it. We’re continuing to raise money, explore new partnerships, and tell the story of our mission. There is a lot of work ahead and we can still make meaningful progress now. Nothing ever falls neatly into place in this mission, every gain comes through hard work, and with many simple acts we can achieve a complex goal.


Then and There Meets Here and Now

"You have to go out but you don't have to come back." This is the unofficial slogan of the United States Coast Guard. The remarkable men and women of this service live this creed every day and none embody it more than Lt. John Pritchard and Radioman Benjamin Bottoms. In 1942 these men died in a dramatic and audacious rescue mission in Greenland, along with U.S. Army Air Corps Corporal Loren Howarth. Their plane, a Grumman J2F-4 Duck amphibious biplane, crashed in a storm on a fateful November day near Koge Bay. For 72 years they have been missing, buried beneath the ice of Greenland's coastal glaciers.

Although their bodies remain lost, the memories of these men remain strong. Efforts to find them have met with mixed results in recent years. In 2012 an expedition identified wreckage from the plane in the vicinity of the crash and a 2013 follow-up mission was unable to discover new evidence. A 2014 effort demonstrated the effectiveness of new recovery techniques but also came home empty-handed. Despite setbacks and the near-impossible goal of finding a plane buried in a glacier, our resolve to continue the mission remains strong. These men would have come looking for us. We honor their memory by looking for them.

Now members from recent trips are regrouping, taking a fresh approach to the search. The GEaR team is planning an expedition to Greenland this summer to conduct an extensive survey of the crash vicinity with proven technology and methods. We plan to leave on July 4th, Independence Day, to recognize the sacrifice that these heroes made for their fellow Americans in World War 2.

Why us? Why now? We've been there. We know the terrain, the locals, and the institutions. We understand the science needed to find the men. We have the right tools and techniques for the job. Our unique combination of skills makes us the right team for the job. We have positive, professional relationships with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Defense, the governmental bodies who are deeply invested in the return of these men and with whom we are coordinating our efforts. We hope you will follow our progress and support our work. Check back for news and updates. Feel free to reach out to us - we'd love to hear from you, hear your questions and ideas.