Picayune family receives loved one’s remains 70 years after military plane crash

Thomas Claiborne Thigpen's family received his remains years after a military plane crashed in Alaska killing everyone one board.
Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 10:12 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 23, 2022 at 10:06 AM CST
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PICAYUNE, Miss. (WLOX) - Seventy years ago today, a military plane carrying 52 service members crashed on a glacier in Alaska killing everyone on board and burying their bodies underneath hundreds of feet of snow and ice. In 2012, the wreckage was discovered, and many remains of those service members were recovered.

Robert Thigpen is the youngest nephew of Thomas Claiborne Thigpen, who was on that plane when it crashed. He says he still remembers the day when they needed a DNA test to identify Claiborne in the discovered wreckage.

“I DNA swabbed, two of my cousins did it,” Robert Thigpen remembered. “They got back to us a year or two later and they were able to identify a small bone fragment in his leg with the DNA.”

This was a major breakthrough many families have been waiting for. But unfortunately, not many in the Thigpen Family would live to see it.

“Our parents, our grandparents had passed away not knowing if his body would be found, if his remains would ever be found,” said Thigpen.

“There were 12 nephews and four nieces. We lost a few of them and they never knew.”

But that didn’t stop Robert or his cousin, WIlliam, from losing hope. William was only 5 years old when he learned what happened.

William Craft said, “I remember... my mother and her sisters all got the same picture of him and his uniform in a frame. And when you get to about six or seven, you begin to ask, ‘Well, where is he?”

Craft said when the family finally received the body, a sense of closure was felt seeing his uncle returning home.

“I lived my whole life with him gone and to learn we may recover his remains, it was just almost unbelievable,” said Craft. “When the door opened and we see the coffin with the flag on it, we were standing there in the moment just staring and looking. It took so long for something to come about and to see it, you know it. It was very emotional.”

Not all the families got the closure the Thigpens received. Both cousins shared a message of hope for those who are still waiting for the return of their loved ones who were on the plane.

“We’re praying for them because we’ve been where they are at. And when that day comes, we will be there with them.” said Thigpen.

“Don’t give up hope. They’re still searching, and they’ll find them,” said Craft. “I was almost guilty of that because I had lived my whole life and I said, ‘He will never come home.’ But my mind was changed.”

The team will return to the crash site in the spring to look for any more remains so the rest of the families can hopefully also find closure.

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