Today in Military History: Dec. 9, 1948, B-17, C-47 stranded

A B-17 lifeguard aircraft lies on the Greenland ice cap in December 1948 after a rescue attempt failed. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On Dec. 9, 1948, an arctic storm causing a “whiteout” forces a C-47 Skytrain to land on the Greenland ice cap, stranding the crew of seven. Five more service men were stranded on Dec. 12 when the first rescue attempt by a refitted B-17 bomber failed as the aircraft sank into soft ice. Three more airmen were stranded a few days later during an attempt to land and lift off a rescuing glider, which became stuck as well.

On Dec. 28, Lt. Col. Emil Beaudry landed his ski-equipped C-47 on the ice cap to rescue all 12 men and earn the Mackay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year. The planes are still in Greenland. 

A fuller account, from, summarized from information in the National Geographic Magazine, Vol. 96, No. 4, 1949, p. 525; The Times of 20 and 29 December 1948; Manchester Guardian of 21 December 1948: and New York Times of 29 December 1948:

On 9 December 1948 a United States C-47 transport aircraft crashed on the Greenland ice cap some 230 miles south-east of Bluie West Eight (Sondre
Stromf jord), 7800 ft. above sea-level.  The stranded crew of seven built shelters with blocks of snow and communications were established by means of a wireless transmitter salvaged from the aircraft.

Supplies were dropped by parachute, but on 14 December a B-17 Flying Fortress, with a crew of two, crash-landed while attempting a rescue. Four days later a CG-15A glider was dropped to the nine stranded men, and a transport aircraft made two unsuccessful attempts to snatch the heavily laden machine from the ice. The wheels of the glider were afterwards removed, and on the third attempt it was lifted clear of the ice.  Unfortunately the tow rope parted almost immediately, but a safe landing was made and the five men on board escaped injury. At this time the temperature was -40° F. (-40° C).

Later attempts to lift the glider also failed, and three more airmen were forced to join the stranded party.

Finally, a ski-fitted C-47 flown by Lieutenant-Colonel Emil G. Beaudry and Lieutenant Charles W. Blackwell effected a landing on 28 December. The aircraft was fitted with jet-assisted take-off equipment to minimize the hazards of a long take-off from rough snow, and the twelve rescued airmen were taken to Bluie West Eight.

An excellent article by Ed Farmer on this incident appears in the Smithsonian Air & Space magazine.


Christopher P. Cavas contributed to this blog post.