The Air Force Superfortress Stuck on an Alaskan Glacier

November 10, 2018Garland Kennedy
Coffee or Die Photo

In the legendary 1818 poem “Ozymandias,” Percy Shelley wrote about a statue of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II, who once ruled a great empire.

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The statue once represented Ramesses the Great’s absolute power. Now it lies alone in the sand, ruling nothing but an empty desert.

On the other side of the planet, I was on a hike up to an Alaskan glacier. I’d heard the rumors, but I first saw the bomber from a ridge to the southwest during my trek. It almost looked like a dragon brought down by a medieval knight and left to wither on the ice. But it wasn’t a dragon — it was a TB-29 Superfortress, a nuclear-capable strategic bomber.

A B-29 Superfortress bomber flying away from smoke caused by a bomb it dropped.

The bomber crashed in bad weather on its descent into Elmendorf Air Force Base in November 1957. The wreckage remains on a glacier in the Talkeetna Mountains to this day. The fuselage lies nearly flat, like a stepped-on soda can. The engines and landing gear are scattered across the ice, ripped from the bomber by the force of the impact.

By 1957, the TB-29 was no longer practical as a deep-strike weapon, but it was still used by the U.S. Air Force as a training aircraft. This particular bomber was on a routine radar calibration flight when it encountered bad weather and ran headlong into an unnamed glacier.

Six of the 10 crewmen died; the others survived a blizzard until rescue personnel arrived. The bodies are no longer there.

Visiting Bomber Glacier is akin to visiting a graveyard. I felt unwelcome, out of place. “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay.” But the glacier, which has no formal name, has a certain gravitas. The winds whip off the ice like they have for millennia, and the view from the crash site is spectacular at worst.

The author inspecting the crash site. Photo courtesy of Garland Kennedy/Coffee or Die Magazine.

And there’s a nuclear bomber just sitting there.

It was not lost on me that this was once a symbol of American military power, now broken and abandoned. This fuselage, responsible for delivering mass death (if called upon) in its day, now sat juxtaposed against an otherwise serene glacier wilderness landscape.

It was a Superfortress, built to absorb anti-aircraft fire, engine failures, and other battle damage. But all it took was a storm and a mountain to bring it down.

It was an amazing weapon, built to rain nuclear fire onto the Soviet Union — or maybe standing tall on the flightline to prevent the need for such an atrocity. But there was no nuclear spectacle, no military drama once the aircraft met its untimely fate. There was only a crash, followed by silence.

The site of the crash. Photo by Garland Kennedy/Coffee or Die Magazine.

The glacier and the bomber, as I saw it then and as they surely have remained since, are bound together in perpetuity. It’s as if the wilderness has swallowed the bomber whole and made it a part of the landscape, Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

The glacier and its bomber now go on together, forever. What symbol the duo ultimately becomes has yet to be written.

Garland Kennedy
Garland Kennedy

Garland Kennedy is a contributing writer for Coffee or Die. As an avid backpacker and outdoorsman, he has explored wide-open spaces all over North America — from the forests of North Carolina (he’s a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in medieval history) to the mountains of Alaska. His previous bylines include gear reviews on

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Dear Jack: I'm Retiring From The Military — Help!

In this installment of “Dear Jack,” Marine veteran Jack Mandaville helps a career service member figure out life after retirement.

March 31, 2023Jack Mandaville
navy chaplains suicide prevention
US Navy Deploys More Chaplains For Suicide Prevention

Growing mental health distress in the ranks carries such grave implications that the U.S. chief of n...

March 31, 2023Associated Press
ukraine lessons learned
Opinion & Essay
Nolan Peterson: Lessons From Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

After living in and reporting from Ukraine the last nine years, conflict journalist Nolan Peterson h...

March 30, 2023Nolan Peterson
black hawk crash kentucky
9 Killed In Army Black Hawk Helicopter Crash In Kentucky

Nondice Thurman, a spokesperson for Fort Campbell, said Thursday morning that the deaths happened the previous night in southwestern Kentucky during a routine training mission.

March 30, 2023Associated Press
richard stayskal act military medical malpractice
DOD Denies Most Stayskal Act Malpractice Claims

Master Sgt. Richard Stayskal was diagnosed with lung cancer long after military doctors missed a tum...

March 29, 2023Maggie BenZvi
ukrainian wounded soldiers
‘On Tour In Hell’: Wounded Ukrainian Soldiers Evacuated

With bandaged heads and splinted limbs, the wounded soldiers are stretchered into the waiting medica...

March 27, 2023Associated Press
US oil mission
US Launches Airstrikes in Syria After Drone Kills US Worker

While it’s not the first time the U.S. and Iran have traded airstrikes in Syria, the attack and the ...

March 24, 2023Associated Press
The Gift jason dunham
‘The Gift’ Explores the Life and Legacy of Medal of Honor Recipient Jason Dunham

"The Gift" tells the story of the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor after the Vietnam War. ...

March 24, 2023Mac Caltrider
  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved