Personal items of lost airman returned to family

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, June 3, 2014

FROZEN IN TIME: From left, Claiborne Thigpen’s nephews Mike Craft and Cecil Craft examine some of the personal effects found at the plane crash.  Photo by Alexandra Hedrick

FROZEN IN TIME: From left, Claiborne Thigpen’s nephews Mike Craft and Cecil Craft examine some of the personal effects found at the plane crash.
Photo by Alexandra Hedrick

The personal effects of Claiborne Thigpen were returned to his family Friday during a presentation held at Paul’s Pastry.

Thigpen died in November 1952 after his plane crashed into a glacier in Alaska. The plane and remains of those on board remained encased in the glacier until two years ago when the Alaska National Guard discovered the wreckage.

Before the presentation began, family and friends of the Thigpen family gathered to exchange pictures and reminisce.

Entitlements Branch Chief for US Air Force Mortuary Affairs Trevor Dean presented the items to the Thigpen family, which included Thigpen’s nephews Gerald Patch, Mike Craft and Cecil Craft.

Craft was contacted months ago to provide a DNA sample to help identify the remains.

Dean said the only part of Thigpen recovered was a portion of his femur.

Of the 52 people who died on board the plane, only 19 have been identified, Dean said. He also said there have been remains recovered that may never be identified.

Thigpen’s remains will be returned to the family to do what they see fit, but he is eligible for a full military funeral, Dean said.

Thirty-three items that belonged to Thigpen were found at the crash site, many perfectly preserved.

“It’s kind of amazing what ice will do. What it’ll preserve,” Dean said.

A majority of the items had Thigpen’s name on them and still displayed creases where the clothes had been folded.

The plane was uncovered 62 years later because the glacier would melt and refreeze each year, uncovering parts of the plane that had previously been unseen, Dean said. He added that the plane and glacier had moved 12 miles from the crash site.

Thigpen graduated in September 1952 from radio technician school at Keesler Air Force Base before returning to Picayune to spend his 30-day leave.

He was married to his high school sweetheart, Rose Marie Slaydon Thigpen.

He was traveling on the aircraft to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska when the plane crashed.

Since discovering the plane in June 2012, the United States Air Force has worked to recover and identify the remains of those who died in the crash.