Remains of missing service member found 62 years after crash

Published 7:00 am Saturday, May 24, 2014

After 62 years, the family of Claiborne Thigpen will receive some closure on his death.

Thigpen’s nephew, Cecil Craft, received a phone call a few months ago saying the United States Air Force had located the wreckage of Thigpen’s plane, which had crashed in November of 1952.

Craft said Thigpen had just finished basic training and was flying from Montana to Alaska to fight in the Korean War when the crash occurred.

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According to the Nov. 15, 1952 issue of the Picayune Item, Thigpen graduated in September 1952 from radio technician school at Keesler Air Force Base and after spending his 30-day leave in Picayune with his family and wife, Rose Marie Slaydon Thigpen, he was heading to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.

Fifty-two people were aboard the plane when it crashed, stated an article in the Nov. 27, 1952 edition of the Picayune Item.

Thigpen’s wife received notice on Nov. 30, 1952 that Thigpen had been confirmed dead. Even so, the family had held out hope of finding Thigpen alive because the plane had been spotted resting on a mountainside between the Gulf of Alaska and Elmendorf Air Force Base three days after it crashed, according to a Dec. 4, 1952 Picayune Item article.

Craft said he was 12-years-old when his uncle died and remembers how distraught his family was, especially his grandparents because Thigpen was “their baby boy.”

According to an Associated Press story, the wreckage and the remains of the soldiers were discovered by the Alaska National Guard on June 14, 2012 on Colony Glacier.

The United States Army started gathering the remains and items from the wreckage and then began contacting family members for DNA samples in an attempt to return loved ones to their families, the AP story stated.

The process of collecting DNA samples could take up to six years, said Army Capt. Jaime Dobson in the AP article.

Immediately after the plane crashed, 12 men traveled by barge, helicopter and on foot to search for the wreckage of the plane in hopes of finding survivors, stated a November 1952 Anchorage Daily Times article.

The 2012 AP story said the wreckage became buried in snow after the crash and was most likely beneath the surface of the glacier for the last 60 years.

Craft said a member of the United States military will present some of Thigpen’s personal effects to his family and explain how they discovered the wreckage on Friday.

The presentation will be at Paul’s Pastry on May 30 at 5:30 p.m.

Craft said Thigpen was a Picayune Memorial High School graduate and grew up in the Santa Rosa community.