LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — Imagine surviving the winter for five months in a place where the wind can cut your eyes out. That’s what five men had to do in Greenland in November 1942, as detailed in the book Frozen In Time by Mitchell Zuckoff.
“The story that I tell really begins on Nov. 5, 1942, when a transport plane with five men aboard goes down on the coast of Greenland in a crash,” Zuckoff told WNEW’s Judlyne Lilly. “Incredibly, the five men survived, but their radio calls go unanswered because nobody could find them.”
Zuckoff said the U.S. was trying to get war planes over to Europe for the World War II effort along what it called the Snowball Route.
“It was kind of a hopscotch route where planes would fly from … Chicago to Nova Scotia, up to Greenland, up to Iceland, and then to England,” Zuckoff said. “We built these secret bases on the coastline of Greenland as stopping points. It became kind of the Main Street of this Snowball Route.”
The first plane that went down, Zuckoff said, was a transport plane carrying mail and other routine things. A bomber, which was headed to Germany for the war, went in search of the downed plane. It was able to get a few men out but it, too, crashed on a return trip, leaving the rest of the survivors to endure the deadly winter, Zuckoff said.
“Some of these guys had to wait as long as five months over the arctic winter living in the tail section of a B-17, or in ice caves to be rescued,” Zuckoff said.
The men waited as long as 148 days for rescue to come, and not everyone who survived the crash made it through the harsh winter.
“There’s something in Greenland called Piterak storms and so you can imagine 100 mph wind. There’s nothing in Greenland — hundreds of unbroken miles. And so wind will pick up speed as it crosses this ice-covered island and it picks up particles, whether it’s ice particles or little bits of sand or grit, and it’s blown at you with such force — it’s almost like a weapon in and of itself,” Zuckoff said. “And it’s like needles that go into your skin. It turns ice crystals into needles.”
Zuckoff joined the Coast Guard and private expedition leader Lou Sapienza on a trip to Greenland to search for the remains of downed planes 70 years after they crashed.
“Now, 70 years have gone by so they’re buried inside the glacier now maybe 50 feet, 30 feet, we don’t know how deep they were going to be when we went,” Zuckoff said. “I joined the expedition and with ice penetrating radar it becomes an effort to locate the Grumman Duck and its heroes.”
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