by Susie Vasquez
The death of Reginald Hopkins, a navigator in Britain's Royal Air Force during World War II, came on a glacier in Iceland when his Fairey Battle Bomber crashed into a snow-covered mountain in May of 1941.
His body remained there for 60 years. But that fact was unknown to his family, including his cousin, Carson City resident Roy Hopkins. Then Roy's daughter Wendy found an account on the Internet.
"She called me up, and asked me if I knew anyone named Reginald Hopkins stationed in Iceland during WW II. It gave me goose bumps," Hopkins said. His cousin's body, along with the remains of the pilot and two passengers, were in perfect condition.
"(In Europe) The war started in 1939, and he was a navigator with the (British) 98 Squadron. He was in France before they moved him on to Iceland. They were expecting an invasion (of Iceland) by the Germans.
"We thought he was lost chasing the Bismarck," Hopkins said, noting the family thought he had been lost at sea and that was the reason the body wasn't recovered.
"Our family finally knows what happened," Hopkins said. And while he hasn't yet contacted his sister Mavis in Canberra, Australia, his brother George in England was excited about the find.
Reginald Hopkins and pilot Arthur Round were sent to pick up two colleagues, Pilot Officer Henry Talbot, 24, and Flight Sergeant Keith Garrett, 22, who had been treated on a hospital ship docked at Akureyri, Iceland.
The four men had taken off from the town's airport in fog that morning on May 26, but 28 miles into their journey the plane crashed into a mountain.
"Everyone knew where they were but they couldn't get to them," Hopkins said, noting that he presumes wartime conditions precluded that kind of effort.
"We had no body bags, no way of bringing the bodies down," Major John Sim, a member of the original search party is quoted as telling the London's Sunday Times. "We returned with a padre and a makeshift wooden cross and conducted a service on the glacier ... I always had the gut feeling that they should not have been left up there."
The RAF pulled out of Iceland two months later and the location of the crash site was lost. The bodies would still be there if not for the efforts of Hardur Geirsson, curator of the Akureyri Museum.
His 20-year search for the crash site ended last summer when a friend found the original accident investigation report, complete with a precise grid reference, at the British Public Record Office.
An unusually warm summer aided the search, melting ice and revealing the crash site.
On Sunday, the four were accorded full military honors at a commemorative service at Reykjavik's Fossfogur cemetery attended by their relatives, RAF officials and dignitaries from several countries.
Roy Hopkins also lost an uncle in the Royal Navy and a brother in the Royal Air Force. He is retired, and has been living in Carson City for 10 years. He was a flight lieutenant and bombardier navigator, flying with the RAF on a B-24. He trained in Canada, and served in India, Burma, and Malaya.
He returned to Canada in 1946, taking a job as a sales manager with British Airways. He has since lived all over the United States and Canada in addition to flying the world during his 35-year career. A widower, Hopkins has two daughters.