MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Alabama — For this third consecutive year, the Civil Air Patrol has passed the century mark in lives saved, as credited by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC).
The 117th “save” of the year happened on the last day of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2019, when CAP’s National Cell Phone Forensics Team provided the Colorado Search and Rescue Board coordinator with a high priority area to focus search efforts for a lost hiker. The hiker was found alive near a trailhead in a national park by a local search and rescue team.
“Nice way to finish out the fiscal year,” said John Desmarais, CAP’s director of operations, who said the save was typical of most of those credited to CAP in recent years. A full 90% — 105 of the 117 lives saved in fiscal 2019 — occurred with the support of the cell phone team.
The organization totaled 158 saves in fiscal 2018, a new record for lives saved in a fiscal year. In 2017, CAP was credited with 110 saves.
“This is exciting news,” said CAP National Commander/CEO Maj. Gen. Mark Smith. “To me, this means there are at least 385 people alive and well today, thanks in part to our volunteers’ recent search and rescue efforts.”
The third year in a row of 100-plus saves reflects CAP’s continuous advances in technology and training in one of the Air Force auxiliary’s primary missions — emergency services, according to officials.
CAP’s total team effort for search and rescue, which also includes the National Radar Analysis Team and state and locally based ground teams, totaled 869 missions for fiscal 2019. The cell phone team participated in 334 of those missions, compared with 75 for the radar team.
Last year the total number of missions stood at 1,044. The mission count for fiscal 2017 was 798. CAP annually performs about 90% of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the AFRCC.
“Technology has been a gamechanger for search and rescue operations that CAP supports,” Desmarais said. “Search missions that used to require vast resources and could last days or even weeks before we had these tools are now resolved with much smaller teams without ever having to even turn props on our search aircraft in many cases. Most of the time we are finding those who are lost over the course of a few hours or less. Rarely do we see search missions last more than a day or two anymore.”
Cell phone data is often the first tool used in a search for a missing individual, as most people, including pilots, go nowhere these days without a cell phone. Cellular data can eliminate search areas and curtail the search time, CAP officials note.
Lost hikers, snowmobilers, skiers, and boaters have been found with the help of cell phone data.