Story of Lt. David M. Carey put to rest in Antarctica

Cold case

Posted: Sunday, January 28, 2007

 

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Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey displays last week a newspaper announcing the death of his father in a plane crash in Antarctica.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Sixteen JAKO rockets, twice the number used by other planes, were used to assist the heavily loaded Neptune patrol plane’s takeoff from Christchurch, New Zealand, according to a Christchurch newspaper account.

The plane’s flight south to Antarctica had already been delayed for an hour while the U.S. Navy crew and ground support staff worked on an apparent hydraulic fluid leak in the system operating the plane’s ski landing gear.

The Neptune P2V-2N, named “Boopsie” for the nickname of one of the pilot’s daughters, was carrying supplies as part of Operation Deep Freeze, a U.S. Department of Defense operation in support of the U. S. Antarctic Program.

“Lt. David M. Carey ... was killed with three other Navy men yesterday in the crash of a Neptune patrol plane on the Antarctic ice shelf,” said a story in the Oct. 19, 1956, edition of the Oxnard Press-Courier in Ventura County, Calif.

“The plane crashed during a whiteout blizzard while attempting to land at the airstrip at McMurdo Sound. Lt. Carey was the pilot,” the article said.

At the time, Lt. Carey’s widow, Norma Carey, whose mother lived in Ventura County, was left to raise her family of five children, Jennifer, 9, Michael, 7, Colleen “Boopsie,” 6, David, 4, and Vicki, 15 months, by herself.

The younger David Carey grew up to be the present-day Mayor Dave Carey of Soldotna.

Over the years, Mayor Carey has learned many details about his father’s life as an officer and aviator in the U. S. Navy, and learned as much as he could about his father’s crash. Much has gone unanswered.

Late last year, the fates aligned when Sterling Elementary School teacher Allan Miller received word he would be traveling to Antarctica with the National Science Foundation.

Miller, who was serving an Albert Einstein Fellowship at NSF in Washington, D.C., would be assisting science researchers on a trip to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

The group would be sailing from Punta Arenas, Chile, on a Swedish icebreaker for the 15-day voyage. Their destination was the Ross Ice Shelf.

The scientists planned to spend at least two days at McMurdo Station before being flown out to Christchurch for the return trip home.

Miller, who befriended Mayor Carey when Carey was history teacher and wrestling Coach Carey at Skyview High School, thought, this being an international trip, he would like to take something to share with people he met from other parts of the world.

Brightly colored Soldotna city souvenir pins fit the bill.

 

A family photo shows Carey's dad standing next to the cockpit of an airplane.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“Allan wrote asking if he could get 50 Soldotna pins mailed to him in D.C. to take to Antarctica,” said Carey. “He asked if there was anything he could do for us.”

Mayor Carey had heard that a glacier on the Antarctic continent had been named for his father, the custom being to name various natural features after those who died while helping to establish bases for the extended study of Antarctica.

Could Miller find a map of a Carey Glacier?

“I also wanted to know if, as I had heard, the tail section of my father’s plane was still standing at McMurdo Station as a memorial,” Carey said.

Throughout her life, Carey’s mother never had the opportunity to visit Antarctica, the site of her husband’s death, and Mayor Carey asked Miller if it also would be possible for him to take one of Norma Carey’s funeral cards and some of her ashes to be scattered there.

Miller said he would do what he could.

When Miller arrived at McMurdo Station, he was awe struck by what he saw.

“There’s such a crew of unsung heroes,” he said.

“The more I was down there, the more I realized how these guys were putting their lives on the line ... and they knew it,” Miller said.

He said a number of memorials dot the landscape — tributes to explorers who had perished in the pursuit of science.

He also saw the Scott Hut, a shelter erected by Sir Robert Falcon Scott during his 1902 expedition to Antarctica.

Miller said it was like traveling in a time machine to enter the hut and see ragged clothing hanging above the plank bed, shoes, pots and pans used by the early explorers, and preserved through time by the cold.

 

Carey's mother was presented a 49-star flag.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

It was in stark contrast to modern-day McMurdo Station, with its 1,200 seasonal inhabitants, offering a modern cafeteria, a barber shop, bowling alley and the Internet.

Not far from the Scott Discovery Hut, Miller found the Our Lady of the Snows Shrine, a Madonna statue that commemorates a Seabee tractor driver who drowned in 1956 when his 30-ton tractor broke through sea ice.

At the base of the statue he found a collection of items left to commemorate others who spent time at McMurdo Station.

It was there that he left the funeral card of Mayor Carey’s mother and a small memorial on behalf of the family.

Miller learned from a priest at Church of the Snows Chapel at McMurdo, that because of the overwhelming number of requests they receive to have ashes scattered on Antarctica, the practice has been discontinued over time.

Mayor Carey did receive a letter from Father Yvan A. Sergy, relieving chaplain for the priest Miller met.

“We have prayed for David and Norma Carey, who I gather are your late parents,” the letter said.

“I did include them in my prayer at last Sunday’s Mass. Monday afternoon, Jan. 1, 2007, I also offered a Mass intention for your parents as well.

“I understand that your Mum must have been a pretty amazing woman raising you and your siblings alone in Alaska.

“I hope it helps to find peace in the heart and gratitude for what our beloved ones have done for us,” Father Yvan said.

Miller also provided Mayor Carey with a photo showing his mother’s funeral card amid other mementos at the base of the shrine.

In his online journal entry, Miller wrote:

“Son David taught history with me at Skyview High School for over 10 years and is currently our town mayor; Vicki is the parent of four past students and a good friend; Mike is a Vietnam Veteran living in Soldotna who received a Silver Star for saving the crew of the PBR he was serving on while in the Navy; and Colleen “Boopsie” is a retired physical education teacher living in Texas — she has two daughters and her one son is now serving in Iraq. (Jennifer died seven years ago.)

 

“The woman on the card is their mother, who raised them alone after their father passed away. She was never able to visit McMurdo before passing away three years ago. We brought these items here to honor her memory and the sacrifices that the family (made) supporting McMurdo Station and the Navy.”

Miller was also able to confirm that a glacier has been named in honor of “Lt. David W. Carey, pilot with U.S. Navy squadron VX-6, who was killed in the crash of a P2V Neptune airplane at McMurdo Sound in October 1956.”

The Carey Glacier is located at latitude 78 degrees, 53 minutes south; 83 degrees, 55 minutes west, on the east side of Miller Peak in the south end of the Sentinel Range, Ellsworth Mountains, flowing southeast to the Minnesota Glacier.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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