DOWNING, Mo. - Sixty four years after his plane crashed into a glacier in Alaska, U.S. airman and Downing, Mo. native Wayne Dean Jackson's body has made it home.
Jackson, along with 51 other crew members, were flying to Anchorage, Alaska from Washington state on November 22, 1952, when their plane crashed in to Mount Gannett, about an hour away from their destination. Everyone on the flight was killed. Jackson was 21 years old.
The wreckage was originally discovered six days after the crash, but because of its remote location known for avalanches, access to the area is limited to three weeks of the year in the summer. Within a year after the crash, the Air Force abandoned looking for wreckage due to those safety issues.
In June of 2012, though, a breakthrough occurred. An Alaska National Guard Black Hawk helicopter crew on a training mission noticed a yellow canister about 14 miles from the original crash site. The National Guard was sent out to investigate, and they were able to trace it back to Jackson's flight.
In 2014, after two years of investigating by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, it was announced that 17 victims had been identified.
One of them was Wayne Dean Jackson.
Family and friends were finally able to get some closure.
"Very, very overwhelmed. Very thankful and grateful," childhood friend Vicki Dodson said. "I did not think this day would come. I have been praying for this for a long time. It's been a long last four years, but now he's home. And I'm very thankful."
I.G. Ruth lived a block away from Jackson growing up in Downing, about 15 miles south of the Iowa border. Ruth is also a military veteran, as he served in the Korean War. He and Jackson were set to serve together before the crash happened.
"We left in November of 1952, and I made it to Korea and back," Ruth said. "He didn't make it out of Alaska...until now."
To honor Jackson's service, the Patriot Guard Riders led a service from Des Moines, Iowa's International Airport to Downing. More than 50 riders rode the 121 mile trip, with a police escort and Jackson's coffin in a white hearse in the procession as well. Friends and family, including a 96-year old cousin, attended the event.
One attendee of the event called it a "modern-day miracle." Ruth said everyone is overjoyed with Jackson finally coming home.
"We're really happy to see this come to a conclusion," Ruth said. "What Wayne Dean did for us...he gave his life so we could have this life we have today. So, you can't ask for more."
Jackson was officially laid to rest next to his parents in the Downing cemetery on August 6.