Moon joins Aviation Hall of FameA few years ago, Bryan Moon found himself in a situation that seemed likely to end in death.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
A few years ago, Bryan Moon found himself in a situation that seemed likely to end in death.
He and eight others were trekking nine miles through a jungle in Papua New Guinea when they noticed they were being followed by unhappy natives prepared to get them off of tribal property by one means or another. Upon reaching the base of a 4,000-foot mountain, it became clear that climbing to the top would be the group’s only option for escaping the tribe.
So, despite having had a pair of heart attacks and two major surgeries only eight months earlier, Moon left the base camp at the bottom of the mountain — and just in time.
“They were waiting for us to get down,” Moon said of the tribe. “With their machetes they cut the wood of the tree and they wrote on the tree, ‘Cross here again and you die.’”
Realizing that heading back the way they came was no longer viable, the group decided the only thing left to do was phone for a helicopter, which wasn’t as simple as it sounds.
“It’s harder to find the yellow pages in the jungle than it is to find gold,” Moon said.
Fortunately, he had with him a satellite phone that allowed them to call anywhere in the world.
“So one of the guys called his wife back in Minnesota and said, ‘We’ve got us a little problem, dear,’” Moon explained, pointing out that it was about 2 a.m. in Minnesota at the time.
The wife was able to find two telephone numbers for Papua New Guinea helicopters, but it wasn’t until three days later that the group was finally rescued from the top of the mountain.
“Ever since then a helicopter is our only means of escape if we have a really dangerous situation,” Moon explained. “You learn by your mistakes.”
Group members knew there were risks involved right from the start of their trip overseas, but that’s never stopped them from heading into unfamiliar territory.
Moon, along with his eldest son, Christopher, founded an organization 21 years ago called MIA HUNTERS to search for missing veterans going back World War II. The idea came about after Moon started searching for lost airplanes once he retired from being a pilot for Northwest Airlines.
“One day we found airplanes and bodies,” he said. “And I decided finding the bodies was more important than the airplanes.”
MIA HUNTERS has slowly grown since its inception and now has about 50 members who volunteer their time and risk their lives in hopes of finding former military members and giving their families a chance to have closure.
“On top of that they have to fund their own way,” Moon added. “We don’t have any funding from companies or businesses or rich uncles.”
Still, the members continue to embark on missions, sometimes searching for one MIA in particular and other times finding dozens of bodily remains all in one location.
Moon said he’s led a total of 29 missions and found hundreds of MIAs. He is being honored Saturday by the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame for his vast history in aviation, but Moon said he’s only one of many who should be acknowledged.
“I see this as a recognition of all the MIA HUNTERS and what they do,” he said. “It’s not just me. I didn’t do this by myself.”
If he had done everything alone, the end of MIA HUNTERS would be quickly approaching because Moon is slowly decreasing his time on missions.
“I’m sort of retired,” he said. “I’m retired from the business but I run the organization.”
Although he may claim to be retired, certain missions just can’t keep Moon away from what he’s been doing for 21 years. One in particular is supposed to have MIA HUNTERS meet with a live MIA living in Laos.
“We’ve been looking for him for six years,” Moon said, explaining how the MIA’s brother called Moon several years ago to tell him about the former pilot and how he was shot down, imprisoned and killed in Vietnam.
At least that’s what he thought.
“But here we are 40 years after the war and this brother in Milwaukee had received a telephone call from a man in Laos that was calling him to tell him his brother was still alive,” Moon explained.
“I’m tempted to do that (mission),” he added with a laugh.
When he isn’t out on missions, Moon runs MIA HUNTERS from Florida. The organization started in Minnesota, where Moon spent time living in the Twin Cities, Frontenac and Cannon Falls before making the move down south with his wife. But regardless of where he currently resides, Moon said he won’t forget the years he has spent in the Midwest.
“I keep coming back,” he said. “It’s partly home for me.”