CAP joins search for missing Malaysian airliner

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. – “It’s a normal search and rescue mission,” said Lt. Col. John Henderson of Civil Air Patrol’s role in the search for missing Malaysia Airline Flight 370. Henderson, a radar analyst for the U.S. Air Force’s 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron (RADES) at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is vice commander of CAP’s 10-member National Radar Analysis Team.

“CAP brings different and unique tools to the table,” said Henderson, who is working 24/7 to narrow the search area based on the airline’s radar forensics information.

“We have a lot of experience using different types of radar data, and our software tools are designed to use a lot of different formats of radar data. The goal is to utilize the radar data and radar signatures from the aircraft to determine its ultimate flight path,” he said.

“Between the 84 RADES and Civil Air Patrol, we have a very robust capability to reduce radar data into usable and actionable forms, to include stitching together tracks from multiple radar systems,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ian Kemp, commander of the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. CAP performs 85% of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the AFRCC.

Henderson’s SAR track record is impressive according to officials. In 13 years, he has participated in more than 600 CAP radar analysis missions with “well over 150 finds” and about 45 lives saved, he said.

In 2007 he helped narrow the search for Adam Flight 574, an Indonesian B-737 that went missing during a flight between Surabaya and Manado with 96 passengers and six crewmembers aboard. Recruited by the U.S. State Department for assistance after a massive effort to find the jet failed, Henderson was able to direct searchers within a mile of the crash site in 6,500 feet of water in the Makassar Strait.

“Searchers were having a hard time picking up the black box pings, and the more time that goes by, the weaker it becomes,” said Henderson, adding, “My analysis got ships in a very close position so they could pick up the pings.”

“The black box is really key to knowing what happened, besides finding the wreckage,” he said.

Radar analysis “can be extremely accurate,” Henderson said. In the CAP team’s case, “over 90% of the time we narrow the search area based on forensics information. We’ve come within 65 feet of where a crash occurred and sometimes miles. It depends on the radar environment.”

Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with 60,000 members nationwide, operating a fleet of 550 aircraft. CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs about 85% 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 71 lives annually. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The 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.

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