A military cargo plane (C-53) flying over Greenland during WWII crashes with five crewmembers aboard. All five survive the crash and a rescue mission is launched with second plane (a B-17) carrying nine crewmembers. That plane also crashes on the ice cap. Again, all men survive the initial crash.
With winter approaching fast on the frozen wasteland, and confirmed contact with the survivors from the B-17, extraordinary efforts must be made to save these men. The U.S. Coast Guard positions the Cutter Northland, in a bay as close as possible to the crash site to contemplate options with Greenland’s uncooperative weather.
The determined path is to send a 3rd plane (the Grumman Duck) from the Northland piloted by Lieutenant John Pritchard with Radioman Benjamin Bottoms. They had initial success landing on the glacier and rescuing two crewmen and made a second trip to recover more survivors. Instead due to yet another tragedy on the ground, they hurriedly picked up Corporal Loren Howarth (another survivor of the initial B-17 crash turned rescuer) and planned to head back to the Northland immediately to get additional personal and equipment.
The unthinkable happened when that plane also crashed on its return to the Northland. It was determined after eyewitness accounts of the crash site that there were no survivors of the Duck.
Does this sound like a best selling book? Well – it actually is. “Frozen in Time” by Mitchell Zuckoff, tells the full true story of all three crashes and the final outcome on the frozen tundra that is Greenland in the winter of 1942-43. It also outlines the attempts that have been made since then to recover the Duck and the heroes onboard the craft to bring them home to their final resting place.
But that is not where this story ends...it’s where it begins. Long-time Woodinville resident, Christie Fisher, was on vacation in nearby (to Greenland) Iceland when she met some of the people that were traveling to an expedition.
Fisher was so intrigued with the story they shared that she decided to get involved.
That was two years ago, and now she’s getting ready to head to the massive island with this team situated between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans in hopes of recovering the Duck and its crew. Even if they don’t find the prize, she is focused on the journey and the educational aspect of the adventure.
Fisher graduated from Woodinville High School then the University of Arizona with a BA in Music. She continued her education receiving her MBA from the University of Baltimore. She works as the Director of Business Management for Microsoft, and volunteers her time as a mentor and enjoys working with students and veterans in particular. She is also now very involved with the small non-profit that she helped to create Global Exploration and Recovery – GEaR.
GEaR is team of passionate individuals that volunteer their time, money, and skills to come together oversees to deliver on the promise made to our Servicepersons - that they will not be left behind. They also maintain contact with the next of kin. In this case, it includes John Pritchard’s sister Nancy, who is 94, and who continues to hope that her brother’s body will be located and returned to his native soil.
GEaR is the entity heading to Greenland again this month. All of the members of the team (except Fisher) were part of the original expedition outlined in “Frozen in Time.” Fisher is the Board Secretary and a Director of GEaR.
For three weeks, Fisher will be based at small Inuit village with about 250 residents where her role will be community and educational engagement. She will be in contact with the exploration team on the ice cap and communicate with classrooms and followers to their expedition.
In addition to the obvious logistical planning for a trip of this magnitude, Fisher has been preparing physically as well. She’s been hiking with packs, trained in wilderness first aid, ventured to Alaska on a dog sledding trip, and cooking backpacking recipes that might come in handy. She shared that she is a vegetarian and knows that fresh fruits and vegetables are not a likely staple so she’ll need to improvise.
Meet the other active members of GEaR:
John Bradley is the Founder and President of GEaR, and he lives in Colorado. Bradley has been a mountain guide in and out of North America and has completed several missions in Greenland. He is trained in medical mountain rescue.
Francis Marley is the Vice President of GEaR and he lives in Alaska. Marley is a Captain in the Alaska Army National Guard (served in Afghanistan), and is active in the Alaska Mountain Rescue and Dive Rescue communities. He is trained in Wilderness First Response.
Jaana Gustafsson is the Geophysicist for the team. She lives in Stockholm, and is a land surveyor who leads ground-penetrating radar surveys in both urban and remote wilderness locations. She has been on several Greenland missions.
Nicholas Bratton is the Vice President of GEaR and lives in Seattle. Bratton is an experienced mountaineering guide and a former National Outdoor Leadership School instructor. He has served on two missions to Greenland. Although he will not be on the trip this summer, he is helping with planning logistics.
To learn more about GEaR and help this nonprofit’s mission by donating, visit www.globalexploration andrecovery.com. They also have a Facebook page Global Exploration and Recovery.
Editor’s Note: I was so intrigued with this story that I not only read the book “Frozen in Time” but I have asked Christie Fisher to provide the Woodinville Weekly with updates about her trip. As long as technology cooperates, we are planning on three submissions for each week she is onsite in Greenland from July 16-30. Please stay tuned!