Closure is the prayer of hope for families of Flight #2469

Published 7:23 pm Friday, May 24, 2024

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On 26 January 1950, the Douglas C-54 Skymaster serial number 42-72469,  like the plane shown below,  disappeared en route from Alaska to Montana, with 44 people aboard. The aircraft made its last radio contact two hours into its eight-hour flight. Despite one of the largest rescue efforts carried out by a joint effort between Canadian and US military forces, no trace of the aircraft has ever been found.

A pilot in Canada recently called The Messenger in reference to previous article about S/Sgt. Clarence Anderson Gibson, who was one of the soldiers aboard the flight.  The caller reported that he had located what could possibly be the wreckage of C-54 Skymaster USAF Flight #2469 in the Yukon. The search continues …

In a sleepy hamlet in Louisiana, Bessie Lee Gibson (Andrews) heard a car door close. She pulled back the curtain to see two military officers remove their caps and tuck them under their arms. Her heart broke and her life crumbled at the sight.

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S/Sgt. Clarence Anderson Gibson was one of 44 crewmembers and passengers on ill-fated Flight #2469. He left behind his wife, and two small daughters, ages two and five, and baby girl yet to be born.

Now, 74 years later, Judy Gibson Jackson of Brundidge is still holding to hope that the Skymaster that disappeared over the Yukon can be found, bringing closure to her and to the families of the other 43 passengers who were lost.

“My mother was pregnant with me when her husband, and my father, was lost forever,” Jackson said. “It had been my mother’s hope that she would know what happened to the love of her life before she died. All of us, my sisters, brother and I, had hoped and prayed for that — for our mother, for us — to know what happened to our father.”

Sadly, Jackson said that her mother will never know.

“Mother’s one hope was to know what happened to her husband but she went to her grave not knowing.”

To Jackson and her siblings, her mother was a saintly woman who picked up the pieces of a broken life and put it back together.

“Mother said she almost lost her mind, not knowing what happened to our father,” Jackson said. “For a while, there was hope. In time, hope was gone and turned to despair.

What, we, the families were told was that two hours after the plane took off, it crossed the Yukon/Alaskan border. At 3:09 p.m., the plane sent a message as it flew over Snag. That was the last time anything was heard from the flight.”

When the plane failed to show up at Great Falls that evening, a massive land and air search began.

“That’s wilderness country and icy conditions and snowstorms kept many search planes grounded,” Jackson said. “There were several reports from people who said they had seen the plane. One man near Snag said that he had seen a plane flying low and then heard a thud that shook his cabin.”

Jackson said during the first 72 hours after the plane was found missing, more than 55,000 square miles had been searched by aircraft and soldiers.

“They didn’t find anything then but, a few days later, the Air Force picked up some faint radio signals but nothing came from that,” Jackson said. “It was said that no one on board knew Morse Code but my father did. He was a radio operator in World War II and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was very patriotic. He loved his country.”

The search for Flight #2469 was one of the largest ever on North American soil. Two planes went down during the search but no lives were lost.

“That was a blessing,” Jackson said. “More loss of lives would have compounded the tragedy that all of us who lost loved ones have had to live with for so long.”

Jackson said her mother loved her father so much that she wanted to move back to Alabama so she could raise his children near his parents who lived in Grady.

“We couldn’t have our father’s love growing up but we could have the love and caring of his parents,” Jackson said. “Mother wanted us to know our father through them.”

Jackson said her mother shouldered the burden of the loss of her father with unimaginable strength and courage.

“I would have loved to have my father,” she said. “I never even got to see him. Not one time. Children that have both parents all their lives should be thankful every day.”

Jackson’s mother remarried when she was three years old.

“My stepfather died when I was 14 years old, leaving my mother with a six-year-old son,” she said. “Yet, we were blessed with a wonderful mother who loved us and taught us right from wrong. She worked all of her adult life making sure that we were taken care of. We were never rich moneywise but we had a good home and we were close and we had each other.”

Jackson and her siblings stood close by their mother during her closing years.

Jackson said her mother told her children many times, “You are my life.”

“She is so dear to all of us,” Jackson said. “I think how much she hoped and prayed to know what happened to my father. Even though, she wouldn’t know now, it is my hope and prayer to know for her, for us and all for all of the souls who lost loved ones when that Skymaster went down.”

“With all of the technology we have now, there’s a chance that the plane could be found,” she said. “There are those who think the plane might have landed on a frozen lake and sunk to the bottom when the lake thawed. If that happened, we may never know. But if it went down in the mountains, there’s a chance it could be found. I know what that would mean to me, to my family and I’m sure to other families of those lost on January 26, 1950. Knowing is hard but not knowing just tears your heart out.”