Glacier Girl: The Back Story
How it got trapped in the ice, and how it got out.
- By airspacemag.com
- Air & Space magazine, July 2007
(Page 3 of 7)
For nine days, the 25 men on the flight huddled inside the two B-17s, where they lived, all things considered, in relative comfort. There was little concern about rescue—supplies had been dropped on the third day, and word came that a rescue team was on its way. Men from a special Army Air Forces unit driving a dogsled finally arrive on July 24 to lead the downed crew on an arduous 10-mile march to the south-east coast of Greenland, where a Coast Guard cutter would be waiting.
"There were very mixed feelings at that time," McManus recalls. "There’s a bonding that occurs between a young pilot and his own plane, and when you left you were saying goodbye to it in a sense, and that was a very sentimental moment. On the other hand, we were being rescued and we were getting out alive, with no injuries or deaths, and on that note it was kind of a joyful moment that we were final going to get off the ice cap."
The eight warplanes sitting behind them on the vast sheet of ice would be largely forgotten amid the greater drama of the war—except by the men who flew them.
When Carl Rudder told his story to Roy Degan some 35 years later, Degan became intrigued by the prospect of attempting to reclaim the warbirds from the ice. In 1978 he and a partner asked Pat Epps about using his facility to restore them. They later secured salvage rights to the aircraft.
"I told him it’s not my game," Epps says. "I’m into Learjets and Bonanzas and these other things, and I’m not interested in these warplanes at all." But time and experience have a way of changing one’s mind—that and in this case a chance encounter Epps had with a wealthy aviator who mentioned that he’d like to buy a P-38. Suddenly the idea seemed worth a closer look. In 1980 Epps and Taylor decided that their next adventure would be to the Greenland ice cap.
"Our thoughts were that the tails would be sticking out of the snow," Taylor says with a grin. "We’d sweep snow off the wings and shovel them out a little bit, crank the planes up, and fly them home. Of course, it didn’t happen."
The name "Greenland" is a misnomer if ever there was one. Legend has it that Eric the Red, who discovered it around A.D. 900, gave it the misleading name in order to lure Norwegian and Icelandic settlers to its rocky shores. A protectorate of the Kingdom of Denmark, the island resembles an ice-filled bowl. Over the years, the massive ice cap—10,000 feet deep in places and covering almost seven-eighths of Greenland’s surface—has pushed the center of the island below sea level. There the constant snows melt or are compressed into sheets of ice that move steadily outward toward the island’s mountainous fringe.