The granddaughter of an Air Force officer who died in a plane crash 62 years ago said her dad never accepted his father’s death.
Capt. Robert W. Turnbull was among 11 crewmen and 41 passengers who died on Nov. 22, 1952, when a C-124 Globemaster aircraft crashed while en route to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, from McChord Air Force Base, Washington.
Adverse weather conditions precluded immediate recovery attempts. In late November and early December 1952, search parties were unable to locate and recover any of the service members.
On June 9, 2012, an Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter crew spotted aircraft wreckage and debris while conducting a training mission over Colony Glacier, immediately west of Mount Gannett. Three days later, a team photographed the area and found artifacts at the site that related to the wreckage of the C-124 Globemaster.
Scientists from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used forensic tools and circumstantial evidence in identification of 17 service members. Remaining personnel have not been recovered, and the crash site will continue to be monitored for future possible recovery.
At that time, Turnbull’s wife, Doris, lived on Warren Avenue in Thomasville. Her husband had visited Thomasville for three weeks prior to the plane crash.
Turnbull was the paternal grandfather of Nina Willis, a Cairo resident. Her father was Robert Turnbull Jr., who was 10 at the time of his father’s death and who died seven years ago.
Willis said her dad did not talk frequently about the loss of his father. “He ways questioned did his father truly die,” Willis said.
Her father wondered if his dad might be alive and suffering from amnesia. Until Turnbull’s death, he searched the Internet for information about his father.
Willis said her dad was living in Atlanta when he saw a man on the street who looked like his father. “He almost stopped him and asked who he was,” Willis recalled.
Families of others who died in the crash have the same experience, she added.
“I guess having that body is a big part of closure,” Willis said.
Turnbull’s remains were transported from Alaska to Hawaii, then to Tallahassee, Fla., and arrived Thursday at Clark Funeral Home in Cairo.
Remains will be laid to rest at 11 a.m. Saturday at Barnetts Creek Baptist Church Cemetery with full military honors.
Turnbull’s widow lived for four years after his death. “She died in 1956,” Willis said. “My dad always said she died of a broken heart.”
After her grandmother died, Willis’ father and younger twin sisters were raised by the their maternal grandmother, Mae Latimer, in the Pine Park community in Grady County. The family lived on U.S. 84 near Barnetts Creek. Pasty Turnbull, Willis’ mother, lives at the site today.
Willis’ brother, Jarrett Turnbull, is a Thomasville resident. Her cousin, Baxley Sellers, daughter of one of the late twins, lives in Ochlocknee.
Along with remains, a uniform will be placed in Turnbull’s casket.
Turnbull’s remains were identified through DNA obtained from nieces and nephews who live in Ohio and who will attend the Saturday burial.
Willis pointed out that of the 52 people who died in the 1952 plane crash, only 17 have been identified.
The plane hit the side of a mountain at full speed, resulting in an avalanche that covered wreckage. Remains were found in summers of 2012, 2013 and again this year, when snow and ice melted.
Willis is concerned about relatives of the 35 people who died in the crash and have not been identified.
“I do feel for those family members who don’t have the closure,” she said.
Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820.