CHICAGO (WLS) — After more than 70 years, relatives gathered at O’Hare Airport for the chance to welcome home the body of Delbert Draskey.
An Air Force captain, he was one of 52 servicemen killed when their plane, a C-124 cargo jet, crashed into the side of Gannett mountain in Alaska on a stormy November afternoon in 1952.
“My grandmother used to tell us stories about it,” said Rich Zielinski, Draskey’s second cousin.
Chicago firefighters and police greeted the plane upon arrival. An honor guard was on-hand to remove the casket from the cargo area.
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They carried it to a waiting hearse for the trip to the funeral home. Relatives said search crews were unable to find the wreckage until about 12 years ago, because it was on a steep glacier and buried under snow.
They recovered a number of Draskey’s personal items, including his military ID. But, it would be 12 more years before they were able to identify his remains from a thumbprint. The family was notified in June of this year.
“Hearing all this since 2012 seems surreal. It is closure for the family,” said Bob Smakula, Draskey’s second cousin.
Several books have been written about the crash. Stormy conditions initially prevented crews from reaching the site. According to books, the wreckage became buried under snow and slid down the mountain several miles from where it crashed. For his family, the important thing is that their wait is now over.
“He’s back with his family, where he belongs,” Zielinski said.
Draskey will be buried on Tuesday at Holy Cross Cemetery in Calumet City with full military honors.