Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff

February 10, 2014

frozen in timeSummary (from the publisher): On November 5, 1942, a US cargo plane slammed into the Greenland Ice Cap. Four days later, the B-17 assigned to the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on board survived, and the US military launched a daring rescue operation. But after picking up one man, the Grumman Duck amphibious plane flew into a severe storm and vanished.

Frozen in Time tells the story of these crashes and the fate of the survivors, bringing vividly to life their battle to endure 148 days of the brutal Arctic winter, until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen brought them to safety. Mitchell Zuckoff takes the reader deep into the most hostile environment on earth, through hurricane-force winds, vicious blizzards, and subzero temperatures.

Moving forward to today, he recounts the efforts of the Coast Guard and North South Polar Inc. – led by indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza – who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck’s last flight and recover the remains of its crew.


I’d never heard of the crashes on the Greenland Ice Cap, but was immediately drawn into the story. I couldn’t believe that these men survived for 148 days in those extreme temperatures and horrid conditions. How bad were things? Even with regular supply drops and the firm knowledge that rescuers knew their exact location, the last three men left on the ice cap basically entered a suicide pact. After a bunch of failed rescue attempts, they finally told the would-be rescuers to forget about them. Think about that for a moment. Just…wow.

I thought Zuckoff did a relatively good job of telling the story. Most authors probably would have approached the book by giving detailed background information on the fliers leading up to “that fateful day,” but Zuckoff dives right in. The B-17 was down for the count within something like 20 pages, which as I said, had the effect of drawing me right in. Zuckoff then reveals bits of information about the stranded survivors throughout the rest of the narrative, so that by the end readers have at least some idea of what the men were like.

Many people have complained about the chapters dealing with the modern seek & find mission, of which Zuckoff was a part, saying those passages were boring and self-serving. But I liked them and took some comfort in knowing there are still people in the wold that care about bringing our soldiers — Benjamin Bottoms, John Pritchard, Jr., and Loren Howarth — even after all these years.

The book ends with what the search party finding what they think is the Duck, but the reader doesn’t get a definitive answer in Zuckoff’s pages. For the latest news of what is an apparently ongoing mission, interested readers can check Zuckoff’s blog. I skimmed part of it (it’s very long) and it seems that they still haven’t been able to unearth the Duck, but will continue to dig, presumably using excavation equipment or the kind of fine hand tools found at this website.


I picked up Frozen in Time at my library because it was on a staff member’s personal “best of” list for 2013. It sounded interesting, and turned out to be just that. Sure, there were some boring parts, but on the whole this was a very engrossing read. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

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