Writer Finds Closure in Kings Canyon Mystery

March 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The hiker who found the remains of a missing army airman in Kings Canyon National Park says he has discovered the true meaning of "closure".Seattle writer Peter Stekel came across the body last August. This week it was identified as that of Ernest G. Munn.

Stekel was in the mountains to research a book but instead he became part of the story.

This is what the Mendel Glacier in Kings Canyon National Park looked like when Peter Stekel discovered the remains of a missing army airman.

Stekel says he was hoping to find wreckage of an army aircraft that crashed in the area in 1942 after leaving Sacramento for a training exercise with four people on board.

Along with wreckage, Stekel found one of the airman's remains. At first, he says he thought it was a tree.

"When you're close to 13,000, your brain doesn't work as well when it does at sea level, so it took me a moment to think that there aren't even any grasses growing here, there can't be a tree. I walked a little closer and I realized that I had found the 2nd of the 4 aviators who were on the airplane."

Hikers found the first frozen body back in 2005, later identified as Leo Mustonen.

Stekel says he found the mystery intriguing and set out to write a magazine article. But the article turned into a book.

"The more I learned about it the more excited I became over the story and began to think this would be a great idea for a book. A mystery book, but a true life mystery.

So in August of 2007, Stekel set out to do research in a remote area near Mount Mendel.

There, he found the remains of the second airman, along with artifacts like a parachute and a man's ring.

The body was later flown to the Fresno County coroner's office and just this week, identified as Munn's.

Stekel says he is happy he was able to help a family find closure.

"For this family, they've been spending more than 60 years knowing that Munn had been killed but not knowing where he was or what had happened? This kind of information is good. It provides closure."

Stekel was in Fresno Friday to talk to the coroner about Ernest Munn's autopsy report; part of his research for the book he's hoping will be published in 2009.

Now, it is possible the remains of two other airmen are still somewhere in the High Sierra. Stekel says he already has two more trips planned to survey the area later this year.


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