Nine years of sleuthing, advanced DNA science and cutting-edge forensic techniques have finally put a name to a mummified hand and arm found in an Alaska glacier.

The remains belong to Francis Joseph Van Zandt, a 36-year-old merchant marine from Roanoke, Va., who was on a plane rumored to contain a cargo of gold when it smashed into the side of a mountain 60 years ago. Thirty people died in the crash.

"This is the oldest identification of fingerprints by post-mortem remains," said latent fingerprint expert Mike Grimm Sr., during a teleconference Friday, during which the two pilots who found the remains, genetic scientists and genealogists talked about the discovery.

Twenty-four merchant marines and six crewmen were flying from China to New York City on March 12, 1948, when the DC-4 slammed into Mount Sanford, perhaps because the pilots were blinded by an unusually intense aurora borealis that night. The wreckage disappeared into the glacier within a few days.

The DC-4 was thought to be carrying gold because the merchant marines had just delivered an oil tanker to Shanghai. Though no gold was found, the two commercial airline pilots who discovered the wreckage found themselves on a scientific adventure filled with high-tech sleuthing.

The pilots, Kevin McGregor and Marc Millican, discovered the mummified remains in 1999 while recovering artifacts to identify the wreckage they had found two years earlier.

An Alaska State Trooper flew to the glacier to take possession of the remains, which were flown to Anchorage where the state medical examiner tried to obtain fingerprints. The remains then were embalmed.

Source: Associated Press