GATLINBURG, Tenn. – The Civil Air Patrol, working with the National Park Service, was called up by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center late Monday, Dec. 26, 2016, after an aircraft with three passengers was overdue from its planned arrival at Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport in Sevierville.
Lt. Col. John Henderson, vice commander of CAP’s National Radar Analysis Team, said radar “lost the track in a descent in the vicinity of Mount LeConte.”
He said he believed ground crews would “find the aircraft very close to our last radar hit.”
Air National Guard crews were able to locate the aircraft very close to CAP’s radar detection.
CAP’s Radar Analysis Team works hand-in-hand with CAP’s Cell Phone Forensics Team to analyze radar information and cell phone data to narrow search areas for ground teams.
The Cell Phone Forensics Team collects raw data from cellular providers and public safety answering points, analyzes it for meaningful content, and presents the data in a way that can be immediately applied to a search.
CAP’s Tennessee Wing had several members deployed to the Gatlinburg area, providing aerial and ground support to the National Park Service for the search, said Col. Arlinda Bailey, the state’s commander.
“We stood ready to assist the National Park Service as necessary,” Bailey said.
Civil Air Patrol, the longtime all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, is the newest member of the Air Force’s Total Force, which consists of regular Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, along with Air Force retired military and civilian employees. CAP, in its Total Force role, operates a fleet of 550 aircraft and performs about 90% 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 78 lives annually.
Civil Air Patrol’s 56,000 members nationwide also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. Its members additionally play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to 24,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet program.
Performing missions for America for the past 75 years, CAP received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014 in honor of the heroic efforts of its World War II veterans.