Frozen in Time: The Tale of the Lost Squadron

OVER VIRGINA -- Steve Hinton flies "Glacier Girl," a P-38 Lightning dug out from 268 feet of ice in eastern Greenland in 1992. The aircraft was part of a heritage flight during an air show at Langley Air Force Base, Va., on May 21. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker)

The Silent Landing 

On a chilling dawn of July 15, 1942, a squadron of six P-38 Lightning fighters and two B-17 bombers arose from a secret US Army air base in Greenland, bearing towards the perilous battlefields of WWII. Enveloped by a blinding blizzard, they were ultimately compelled to land on Greenland’s icy expanses due to insufficient fuel. This was not a graceful arrival but a desperate and forced grounding with survival as the sole focus.

P-38H Lightning
P-38H Lightning. Photo from USAF

Crew’s Courageous Convalescence

The crew’s predicament in the frigid wasteland was grim. With the first P-38 inadvertently flipped due to a concealed crevasse, subsequent planes opted for belly landings to minimize damage. Miraculously, these airborne chariots sustained only mild injuries, akin to their valiant pilots. After nine grueling days, the squadron members, battered but alive, were rescued by a convoy of determined dog sled teams, leaving their mechanical steeds silenced and abandoned amidst the snow.

P-38 Glacier girl cockpit
P-38 Glacier girl cockpit

A Frozen Treasure Unveiled

Years rolled by, turning the squadron into whispers and legends until 1980. The dream of reclaiming these forgotten wings fluttered in the minds of Patrick Epps and Richard Taylor. Numerous attempts, funds, and years later, aided by sophisticated radar and tenacity, they unveiled the icy tombs of these aircraft in 1988. Buried under approximately 250 feet of unyielding ice were the echoes of a time imbued with courage and steel birds.

Glacier Girl’s Rise

The duo’s initial disappointment with the crushed B-17 spurred them to seek the sturdier P-38s. May 1992 witnessed their triumphant return with adequate financing and precision. Their gamble bore fruit with the discovery of the P-38 “Glacier Girl” seemingly frozen in time, immaculately preserved. Upon careful extraction and transportation, she revealed the weight of her icy imprisonment, necessitating an intricate restoration process. Nevertheless, the rejuvenated Glacier Girl, comprising 80% of her original form, would once again grace the skies, embodying the resilience of her era.

P-38 Glacier girl
P-38 Glacier girl

Future Endeavors

Inspired by Glacier Girl’s phoenix-like ascent, exploration for the remaining icy guardians commenced. The year 2016 saw a resurgence in efforts, with the spotlight turning towards “Echo,” another P-38 entrapped within the cold confines. Despite the daunting, shifting terrains and unpredictable challenges presented by the icy fortress, by July 2018, Echo was located, reigniting hopes and preparations for yet another monumental excavation set for 2019. Each icy retrieval unfolds a chapter of valor, echoing tales of bravery encapsulated in metal and frost.

NX17630 Lockheed P-38 "Glacier Girl"
NX17630 Lockheed P-38 “Glacier Girl” Photo: Paul Nelhams