Friday, May 4, 2018

Swift rescue: Teamwork and technology combine to quickly rescue downed pilot

By Barbara LaBoe

Time is vitally important during aviation search and rescues and can often be the difference between life and death. That's why we were pleased with the successful – and quick – mission our Aviation Emergency Services Program ran on Wednesday, May 2.

A small plane crashed near Mount Angeles in the Olympic National Park shortly before 8 a.m. The plane's emergency beacon sent out an alert and the State Emergency Operations Center notified us within minutes. (By state statute, we run the search for all downed or missing planes in the state. Aviation Emergency Services is run out of our Office of Emergency Management, assisted with funding from our Aviation Division).

Tom Peterson, our aviation emergency services program manager, coordinates the search missions and several partner agencies assist with the physical searches. Wednesday, the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station launched a helicopter crew while park rangers started a ground search. The pilot had minor injuries after bumping his head in the crash, but he hiked to the top of the mountain where he found cell service and confirmed he needed rescue and was the only one onboard.
Orange markers show the location of the plane and survivor located Wednesday, May 2, in the Olympic National Park. Given this terrain the emergency beacon and its precise coordinates greatly aided in this rescue mission.

The Navy helicopter crew launched at 8:45 a.m. and 20 minutes later located the crash scene and began hoisting the pilot into their aircraft. They credited the plane's digital 406-megahertz beacon with providing "spot on" information. The digital beacons provide precise location details as well as aircraft and owner information and contact numbers, which all greatly aid in searches. The 406 beacons (also used for maritime searches by the U.S. Coast Guard) are much more accurate than initial beacons introduced in the 1960s and 1970s. While not required for aircraft, this type of emergency locator transmitter is invaluable during search and rescue missions.

Given the terrain and heavy snow, locating the plane visually would have been much more difficult and time-consuming. If the pilot had been seriously injured or unconscious, precise location details are even more vital.

With all the agencies working together, the pilot was at the Port Angeles hospital at 9:35 a.m. – just one and a half hours from crash to medical care. Thank you to everyone who helped with this rescue.


verlin Clemons said...

Now how do we get the plane down?

WSDOT said...

The National Park Service is working on a recovery plan.

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