MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Alabama – Civil Air Patrol’s National Cellular Forensics Team participated in its 1,000th mission March 16, 2017. The mission ended, like hundreds before it, in a “save,” CAP officials said.
“The 1,000th cell phone mission has been conducted and it was a success,” said Col. Brian Ready, one of the members of the cellular forensics team, which the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center has credited with helping save more than 300 lives over the past 11 years.
The AFRCC alerted CAP early in the morning to assist the U.S. Coast Guard, which was searching for a missing boater who had gone kite surfing south of Naples, Florida.
“Upon review of the boater’s cell phone data, it was clear the phone became stationary around Coconut Island, Florida, which is about 15 miles from where the USCG was originally looking,” said Ready. “We directed USCG to Coconut Island, and they quickly found the missing boater there in about 20 minutes after the info was relayed.”
The boater became stranded on the island, located at the mouth of Marco Bay, when the tide went out. Even though his phone had lost power, members of the cellular forensics team were able to pinpoint his location. He was found around 3 a.m. Eastern Time in good condition.
“It’s pretty nice to have that be our 1,000th mission,” said Maj. Justin Ogden, who founded the cellular forensics team of citizen volunteers, each longtime members of CAP. “It’s obvious the info provided by Brian and (Maj.) Jerad (Hoff) made a direct impact on the outcome of this mission. I’m pretty proud of those guys.”
The “save” is the 310th credited to the team since Ogden began his work in 2006 — first using analysis techniques to manually search through cellular phone data and later developing customized software to automate the effort.
In addition to the 310 saves, the team also has been credited with nearly 400 finds since 2006.
At the request of the AFRCC, the team searches for anyone who is missing and has a cell phone, including boaters, hikers, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions and pilots.
The team often works in conjunction with Civil Air Patrol’s National Radar Analysis Team, which has enjoyed similar success while using customized software developed by CAP members to analyze radar data from overdue aircraft.
CAP’s director of operations, John Desmarais, says the cellular forensics team has made a difference in the field of search and rescue.
“Through their efforts, the face of SAR has changed,” he said.
Civil Air Patrol was credited with saving 92 lives during fiscal year 2016, with the cellular forensics team playing a role in nearly all of the rescues.
“CAP is saving more lives annually, providing regular support across the country and reducing the time until survivors are located while also reducing the resources needed to accomplish searches — all great results,” said Desmarais.