U.S. Army Alaska mountaineer assists in MIA recovery mission
July 13, 2011
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska, July 13, 2011 -- Instructors at the Northern Warfare Training Center in Alaska not only teach Soldiers and leaders to survive the arctic climate and maneuver through mountainous terrain; their unique skills often put them in demand for specialized missions.
The Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command often calls upon the Northern Warfare Training Center, or NWTC, for assistance in their mission to achieve the fullest possible accounting of all Americans from the nation’s past conflicts.
NWTC instructors help bring closure to friends, family and the military community by advising and assisting the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, or JPAC, to recover the remains of long lost servicemembers and equipment in remote and treacherous terrain.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Weaver, an instructor at NWTC, recently helped the JPAC task force in Papa New Guinea to recover a B-24J Bomber that crashed in June of 1944.
Mountaineering experts like Weaver are needed to help traverse the rugged terrain to reach some of these remote sites and to be able to recover the remains and wreckage safely.
“They want someone there to assist them negotiate the obstacles, so they look for people who are mountaineer trained,” said Weaver.
Weaver said the remoteness and terrain made the crash site very inaccessible and it took a long time just to get supplies to the base camp before they could even start the recovery part of the mission.
The site was so remote they had to shuttle their equipment in by helicopter, and some days even that was impossible.
Weaver said, “In that type of terrain, air [traffic] is limited by visibility. Some days the clouds would come up over the mountain as early as 9:30 a.m. and [the site] would be shrouded in clouds and we couldn’t fly in.”
The site was not only remote but very rugged.
“This site had exposed spurs,” Weaver said. “We had to gain about 300 feet in altitude from our base camp to get to the actual crash site on one of these spurs.”
“There were a lot of fixed ropes installed to mitigate the risks,” Weaver said. “There were slopes that were 50-60 degrees and you could seriously hurt yourself in a fall.
“There was one area at the crash site that was pretty steep to work on. I installed a safety line we could hook into so while we were digging and moving dirt we weren’t going to slip and fall and continue to fall down the hill.”
Weaver also installed some basic raising systems to move heavy equipment and wreckage up and down the mountain.
“We moved wings, parts of wings, pieces of fuselage and things like that,” Weaver said.
This was Weaver’s first JPAC mission and he said he thought the trip and the mission were very worthwhile.
“To be able to bring something back and possibly get closure, I think that is just awesome,” Weaver said.