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Thawing Glacier Reveals Unknown Bodies And Plane Wreck In Swiss Alps

Many of the Alps' glaciers are disappearing – and unearthing grim surprises from the past.

author

Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockAug 9 2022, 16:39 UTC
Mountaineers clamber around the Aletsch glacier, the largest glacier in the European Alps, located in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland.
Mountaineers clamber around the Aletsch glacier, the largest glacier in the European Alps, located in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland. Image credit: Juergen_Wallstabe/Shutterstock.com

The wreckage of a historic plane crash, as well as two sets of unrelated human remains, have been revealed by thawing glaciers in the Swiss Alps. Although the investigation and clean-up are ongoing, it looks like the plane parts belonged to a light aircraft that crashed in the mountains over 50 years ago. 

The Swiss Security Investigation Service was informed by the Air Force that aircraft parts had been found on the Aletsch Glacier – the largest glacier in the European Alps, in the Swiss canton of Valais – on August 4, according to local Swiss law enforcement. 

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Their investigation managed to work out that the parts were from the wreckage of a Piper Cherokee with the registration HB-OYL, which crashed around this location on June 30, 1968. On board the plane was a teacher, a chief medical officer, and a boy from Zurich. The bodies were recovered at the time, but the wreckage was not due to the unforgiving conditions of the mountains.

Things, however, are changing in the area. Due to warming temperatures associated with climate change, many of the Alps' glaciers are thawing and receding, unearthing some grim surprises from the past. 

“At the time of the accident, more than 50 years ago, the technical means to recover aircraft wreckage in difficult terrain were limited. Due to the melting of the glaciers, particularly in summer, it is therefore possible that other pieces or pieces of wreckage may be released from the ice,” Valais Cantonal Police said in a statement.

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Just a few weeks ago in late July, two French climbers found human bones while scaling the Chessjen glacier in the southern canton of Valais, the same region where the plane crash was discovered. 

"I was a little queasy,” Luc Lechanoine, one of the mountaineers who discovered the corpse, told the Swiss newspaper Blick.

"We don't know how long this person had been there. The clothes were neon colored and in the style of the 80s," adding that the body was mummified and slightly damaged, "but still complete."

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A week before this discovery on the Chessjen glacier, another body was found on the Stockji glacier near the ski resort of Zermatt, according to Swiss media.

The identity of both victims is unclear, but local authorities are busy investigating the cases, hoping to identify the people using objects found at the scene and, if possible, DNA evidence.  

The European Alps isn’t the only part of the world where climate change is revealing grisly relics of the past. Just recently, the drought-hit Lake Mead near Las Vegas has revealed four sets of human remains that were previously sunken below water level. 


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