Update: Airman's Remains Home 60 Years After Crash

By Julie Montanaro
July 17, 2014

An airman whose remains have been buried under ice and snow for more than 60 years arrived in Tallahassee today.

Ours were the only cameras rolling when the family walked out to the tarmac to greet a man who they have heard about all their lives, but never met ... until now.

The Delta flight rolled in just after 10am, carrying the remains of a U.S. Army airman who his family thought was lost forever.

This flag draped coffin carries the remains of Captain Bob Turnbull who died when a C-124 went down in a storm six decades ago.

"It's hard to find the words, it's hard to explain ... just the military being here, receiving the body, to know he's coming home, it touches your heart," grandson Jarrett Turnbull said.

"I just wish my dad were here to see it," granddaughter Nina Turnbull Willis said. All three of Turnbull's children have already passed away.

Captain Bob Turnbull died in 1952 in an icy crash and avalanche on a remote Alaskan glacier.

National guardsmen on a training mission spotted the wreckage in 2012 and Turnbull's family would eventually get word that that they had recovered some of his remains.

Granddaughter Sharon Sellers just escorted those remains home.

"You just don't know how amazing it was to be able to touch him and watch him be put in the casket," Sellers said. "It was closure for me."

Grandchildren, great grandchildren ... more than a dozen family members gathered at Tallahassee Regional to welcome the long lost airman home.

He'll be buried next to his wife in their hometown of Pine Park - not far from Cairo.

"It's a close to the love story between my grandparents," Nina Turnbull Willis said. "They truly loved one another. You see it in the letters they wrote to one another. It's definitely the closing of a love story."

The Turnbull's hope that the rest of the families who lost loved ones in the crash will have a day like this. So far, the Department of Defense has been able to identify the remains of just 17 people on board.

By Julie Montanaro
July 9, 2014

It sounds like a made for tv movie ... a military plane crashes into a glacier and the 52 men on board are lost forever under a blanket of snow and ice.

But it's not a movie - it's real - and 60 years later a family from Pine Park near Thomasville got a call saying the plane had been found and their grandfather's remains would soon be coming home.

"My dad always questioned, 'Was he truly dead?"

Nina Willis and Jarrett Turnbull never had a chance to meet their grandfather.

They had always heard the story. Their dad's dad, Captain Bob Turnbull, died when the plane he was on crashed into a glacier and disappeared beneath an avalanche.

They thought that was the end of the story, but that all changed when national guardsmen on a training mission spotted the wreckage 60 years later.

"Wow! Wow!" granddaughter Nina Willis Turnbull said. "We just thought it was lost forever and the fact that it's been churning around in that glacier for 60 years ... what an amazing story."

Captain Bob Turnbull was one of 52 men aboard a C-124 Globemaster that day in November 1952. The plane was on its way to Anchorage, Alaska in a storm when it crashed full speed into Colony Glacier.

"It was just unrecoverable, you know, with the harsh conditions in Alaska," grandson Jarrett Turnbull said. "I never would have expected to hear this ... finding the wreck site."

The wreckage was spotted in 2012. Teams started collecting bone fragments, dog tags, wallets and other personal effects strewn about the crash site.

Turnbull's family members sent DNA samples and got word earlier this year that his remains had been positively identified.

They will be flown back to Tallahassee next week and Turnbull will be buried with full military honors. Right next to his wife Doris.

"It is truly a love story," Jarrett Turnbull said, "and really to bring his body back and place it with her that's going to be ... it's sweet."

"I think it's going to be quite emotional, I really do. I think it's going to really bring it home then," Nina Willis said.

Turnbull's children - twin daughters and a son - were just 8 and 10 years old when he disappeared and unfortunately none of them lived to see this day.

Turnbull will be brought back to Tallahassee next Thursday and we'll be on the tarmac to share the moment with you.

By Julie Montanaro
July 8, 2014

The remains of a local airman who died in a military plane crash more than 60 years ago will soon be brought back to Tallahassee to be buried next to his wife.

Captain Bob Turnbull was one of 52 people killed when their C-124 crashed into a glacier in Alaska and became buried in snow. That was 1952.

Fast forward 60 years. Some of that ice and snow has shifted and melted and national guardsmen on a training mission spotted the wreckage.

Turnbull's family in South Georgia was recently notified that his remains had been positively identified through DNA and will be flown home next week.

"One of the things with these families is for 60 years now they have been sitting... thinking ...what happened. They know that they have died in a plane crash in Alaska - but that's it. This will give them closure," Douglas Beckstead said. Beckstead is a historian with the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Turnbull left behind a wife and three small children. His grandchildren will soon receive his remains and make sure he is buried in next to his wife in a tiny cemetery in Thomas County.

We'll be talking with his family tomorrow and will share his homecoming with you next week.

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