More Than 70 Civil Air Patrol Members From Three States Aid In F-15 Pilot Search
Deerfield, Virginia – More than 70 members of Civil Air Patrol's Virginia, North Carolina and National Capital wings deployed communications gear, aircraft and ground-search personnel in support of the search last week for a missing Air National Guard fighter pilot in the mountains of western Virginia.
In addition to staffing standby aircrews with a "High Bird" communications relay aircraft and supplementing Agusta County, Virginia, VHF communications capabilities with radios and net operators, CAP deployed on more than 20 ground search teams and conducted some 35 ground tasks to search for the pilot in the difficult terrain.
Operating out of a makeshift mission base at the Deerfield Valley Volunteer Fire Dept., CAP – the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force – joined 34 other federal, state and local agencies as part of a massive search operation.
The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center asked CAP's Virginia Wing to deploy assets for the search on Wednesday afternoon. The pilot, a member of the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, had reported an in-flight emergency before radio communication with air traffic controllers was lost. By Thursday afternoon crash site investigators were able to determine that the pilot had failed to eject from the stricken fighter.
Numerous search-and-rescue team members gathered throughout the day on Wednesday to join the search in Deerfield. Volunteers spent the night in tents on the grounds of the firehouse, which normally houses a combined complement of volunteer and paid career firefighters.
A variety of agencies searched from the air as ground teams hiked through the steep terrain. C-130s provided command and control for the many military and law-enforcement helicopters that were deployed in the search. A-10 attack aircraft, normally used to support tank battles on the ground, flew close patterns around the crash site, assisting in the search operations.
Helicopters from the Army, Air Force, National Guard, State Police, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and FBI flew in and out of the Deerfield base throughout the day Thursday.
Teams initially reached the crash site Wednesday, but the search for the pilot took more time and resources. Searchers endured steep and mountainous terrain while scouring the area for clues. Teams had to travel five to ten miles to reach their trailhead. CAP vans proved to be a vital asset in transporting multi-agency teams to their search location. Many teams then had to hike on the trail for several miles to reach their assigned search area. All search teams included trained SAR personnel and members of the State Police.
CAP members train year-round to be available for incidents of this nature, and serve without compensation.
Civil Air Patrol is a nonprofit organization with 60,000 members nationwide, operating a fleet of 550 aircraft. In its Air Force auxiliary role, CAP performs about 85 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 70 lives annually. The unpaid professionals of CAP also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies.
Members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to more than 25,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet programs.
Performing missions for America for over 70 years, CAP will receive the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015 in honor of the heroic efforts of CAP's World War II veterans. CAP also participates in Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans.