Six P-38 Lightnings escorting two B-17 Flying Fortress bombers took off from the secret U.S. Army air base “Bluie West-1” in southwest Greenland on July 15, 1942 headed to a Reykjavik Iceland en route to Prestwick, Scotland. Incorrect daily codes and heavy clouds conspired to turn the aircraft back towards their initial takeoff base. Lost and critically low on fuel, in the largest forced landing in aviation history, all but one of the eight aircraft made wheels-up belly landings in the snow. The group of 25 airmen was rescued by dog sled nine days later.
But the now-rare planes had to be abandoned on the ice where they became covered by decades of snow that solidified into hard ice. FAVF’s Lou Sapienza was a member of the original Greenland Expedition Society that found and retrieved the only plane that has been recovered from the Lost Squadron from over 268 feet below the surface of the ice. Remarkably well preserved and affectionately renamed “Glacier Girl” the restored aircraft made her inaugural flight with nearly 80 percent of her original parts.
This successful mission proved that with the right expertise and commitment, even the most daunting recovery missions are possible.
Fast-forward 15 years. While researching the use of his photographs in the Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine, Sapienza came across the article, “Buried at the Bottom of the World” by Carl Hoffman. Sapienza discovered that surviving family members of the Antarctic US Navy George 1 Crew, Missing In Action since 1946, struggled with the Navy on the search and recovery return of their loved ones. Reading about their dilemma, Sapienza made contact with family members, the Navy and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command to offer the expertise of Greenland Expedition Society. This is how FAVF began.