Thursday, January 05, 2006

Search's End

Well, the long Civil Air Patrol search and rescue operation is over. We found the aircraft late yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, the pilot didn't survive. It looked like he was following a GPS course and thought he was descending into a valley, but was actually about a mile or so off course. Sadly, this meant he descended right into the mountains. GPS is pretty darn accurate, but at 10,000 feet it's not 100% accurate. Considering the fact that he probably wasn't exactly on the center line of his course, a mile's error isn't unreasonable. But descending into an unlit and unfamiliar valley at night isn't very smart. Without lights, the mountains are absolutely invisible. There are no cities in that area to give you a reference, either. The lesson to be learned -- and I can see a good science fiction story written around this -- is that too much faith in technology can fatal. The pilot trusted the GPS display to keep him out of trouble, but he didn't really understand that no technology is 100% accurate or reliable. And it cost him dearly.

All in all, the Civil Air Patrol flew 14 aircraft on 26 sorties (searches), for a total of nearly 80 hours of flight time. 86 people were involved in the search. The search cost about $10,000. If we had found the pilot alive, there's no question it would have been worth every penny, and even now it's probably worth it to provide closure for the family. Still, a lot of people don't realize what goes into saving a single person -- or the fact that none of the crews get paid to do it. We're all volunteers and wouldn't have it any other way. Nevertheless, one always wishes search and rescue was never necessary...


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