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Frozen remains of WWII airman identified

  • Story Highlights
  • U.S. military identifies frozen remains as those of a World War II airman
  • Ernest G. Munn had been missing since his training flight disappeared in 1942
  • Hikers found the body in a Californian glacier last year
  • The body had long wavy hair and an unopened parachute lay nearby
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By Saeed Ahmed
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(CNN) -- The U.S. military has identified frozen remains found atop a California glacier as those of a World War II era airman who vanished more than half a century ago.

Peter Stekel and a friend found the remains of a World War II airman atop a glacier in California.

Ernest G. Munn had been missing since his training flight disappeared over the Sierra Nevada mountain range on November 18, 1942, the U.S. military said Monday. He was 23 at the time.

Last year, two hikers found the frozen remains of a man with blond, wavy hair in a remote area of Kings Canyon, east of Fresno, California. A tattered sweater still clung to the body, and an unopened parachute lay nearby, said Peter Stekel, one of the hikers who made the discovery.

DNA analysis confirmed that the remains were Munn's, the Department of Defense said Monday. The military has notified his family in St. Clairsville, Ohio.

"You don't often have an opportunity in life to provide people with the answers to questions that they have always wanted to know the answer to," Stekel told CNN Tuesday. "Having the ability to supply that information just makes me really happy."

Munn was one of three cadets who, along with their lieutenant, took off from Mather Field in California on a routine training flight nearly 66 years ago. The AT-7 Navigator aircraft carried about five hours of fuel but never returned to base, the U.S. Department of Defense said.

Authorities searched for the men for a month -- without success.

Five years later, in 1947, hikers on Darwin Glacier in the Sierra Nevada mountain range discovered plane wreckage but found no bodies.

Then, in October 2005, backpackers discovered frozen human remains of a crew member, later identified as Leo M. Mustonen.

Two years later, in 2007, Stekel and a friend were in the area researching a book that Stekel is writing about the ill-fated flight.

About 100 feet from where Mustonen's body was found, Stekel discovered the remains of a second man emerging from a melting glacier.

At first he thought it was a tree, Stekel said.

"And as I got closer and closer, I noticed what turned out to be a gold ring on his left ring finger," he said.

DNA retrieved from Munn's family matched samples from the remains.

With two of the missing airmen now identified, authorities continue their search for the others.

Munn was the oldest of four children. He did well in school and watched over his three little sisters, his family told CNN in 2005.

"He was my idol," one of his sisters told CNN. "He was tall and good-looking. And when he walked in, they said, 'Here comes the blond bomber.' And I would say, 'That's my brother.'"

At 23, he enlisted in the Army, kissed his sisters goodbye and told his mother never to cut her long hair.

Authorities have notified his sisters, now in their 80s, about the match. Munn is expected to be buried in May in Colerain, Ohio.

His mother lived to be 102, never cut her hair and died awaiting word on his fate. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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