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House approves defense bill requiring Air Force timeline for recovering '52 Alaska plane crash

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. House voted late Thursday to approve a bipartisan defense policy bill that would require the Air Force to report on its plans and timeline for recovering a C-119 airplane that crashed on an Alaska mountain nearly 70 years ago.

Killed in the 1952 crash were 19 service members, including two men from Muskegon County.

Their remains have never been returned, though aircraft wreckage from the flight, known by the call sign Gamble Chalk 1, was found five years ago on the Eldridge Glacier in Denali National Park. 

A U.S. Air Force Fairchild C-119B-10-FA Flying Boxcar of the 314th Troop Carrier Group in 1952.

The House earlier Thursday voted 367-59 to adopt a bloc of amendments that included one by U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland, to the National Defense Authorization Act.

It would require the Air Force to provide a status update on recovery operations for the C-119 "Flying Boxcar" crash on Mount Silverthrone, as well as detailed plans for recovery and the rationale for any past operations that were delayed or canceled.  

Huizenga wants action from the Air Force in an effort to bring closure to family members who never got to bury their loved ones — Army Cpl. Gail Daugherty of Muskegon and Pfc. Raymond Housler of Ravenna.

Huizenga said Thursday he’s also discussed his amendment with Sens. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa — both of whom serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee — as well as with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

To get adopted into law, a similar provision regarding Gamble Chalk 1 would need to be incorporated into the Senate’s version of the NDAA, as well.

“I think things are absolutely moving in the right direction,” Huizenga said. “Having both sides of the aisle and the Senate aware of it, and having them be active participants in this is much, much needed and helpful.”

Gamble Chalk 1 crashed in November 1952 during the Korean War. The flight was a cold-weather training operation in the Alaska mountains known as Warm Wind, with an Air Force crew of five and 14 Army men as passengers.

The military initially delayed the recovery operation due to equipment challenges related to the terrain and elevation of the crash — roughly 12,000 feet. 

Other amendments debated

Other Michigan lawmakers successfully debated amendments this week that they submitted to the defense bill. 

The House adopted an amendment by U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, to prohibit debt from "medically necessary" treatments from appearing on the credit reports of service members and veterans. 

"We fight so hard to access housing for veterans, to access employment opportunities for veterans, but sometimes that credit report is what is the barrier to them accessing that," Tlaib said. 

House lawmakers also voted to approve an amendment by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, that would establish a national drinking water standard for toxic fluorinated chemicals (PFAS) and would require mandatory training for medical providers of the Department of Defense with respect to the potential health effects of PFAS exposure.

An amendment by Slotkin previously attached to the underlying bill would require the Pentagon to clean up PFAS to the most stringent standard in that jurisdiction, whether it's a state or federal standard or the federal lifetime health advisory.

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, added an amendment requiring an evaluation of the Taliban's capabilities to monetize abandoned U.S. equipment, property or classified material in Afghanistan by transferring it to adversaries of the United States post-withdrawal.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, got in an amendment requiring the secretaries of the military departments to share and implement best practices regarding the use of retention and exit survey data to identify barriers and lessons learned to boost the retention of female members of the Armed Forces.

Another amendment by Lawrence, who co-chairs the Women's Caucus, would create a doula pilot program at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Both Huizenga and Tlaib voted against the broader $768 billion bill which passed the House by a vote of 316-113.

Huizenga objected to a number of provisions in the legislation, including the requirement that women register for military service, a spokesman said. 

Tlaib tweeted that she had voted against "wasteful defense spending." 

"When so many families in MI13 and across the country are struggling due to the COVID pandemic, it simply makes no sense that we are authorizing even more than @POTUS requested," Tlaib wrote. "We have to do so much better on behalf of our communities."