14:47 PM

CAP's Cell Phone Team Works 1,500th Mission

Civil Air Patrol’s award-winning Cell Phone Forensics Team worked its 1,500th mission over the weekend with a search for a missing hiker in northern Utah. That search continued today in a remote area of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

“The search is continuing for the missing hiker last seen on Wednesday,” said Maj. Justin Ogden, the original member of the cell phone team, which now also includes Col. Brian Ready and Majs. Jerad Hoff and John Schofield. “We’re entering the sixth day of searching.”

Ogden said the cellular data for the mission was limited, but it did show the hiker’s phone being on and provided an approximate location of the phone about four hours after the man was last seen. “The area of searching is very remote and has little cell phone service,” he said, adding the team is continuing to monitor the phone for updates.

The Cell Phone Forensics Team has been extra busy this summer, even taking on four more missions since the Utah mission began. The missions added over the weekend increase the team’s overall mission count to 1,504.

The team’s work is extraordinary, often saving lives, as was the case last week in separate searches in Colorado for an overdue hiker in Silverthorne and a stranded hiker on Capital Peak in Pitkin. The two “saves” credited by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center were CAP’s 132nd and 133rd of this fiscal year, with most coming through assistance from the cell phone team.

In addition to its missions in the U.S. this year, the team has also supported missions in Canada, the Bahamas and Mexico.

Using cell phone data to find missing people in this day and age makes sense, as very few people go anywhere without one. But CAP brings more to the table than just collecting data. Deep analysis done quickly and efficiently by the team can shorten the search time by narrowing the search field.

“It’s not just where the phone last was, but we can get a picture of a stream of events over time,” said Ogden, who built and improved the software now used by the team.

With such a large set of data, the team can see trends, and because of expertise gained from so many missions, it can filter out good and bad data.

“Our goal is to see, collect, analyze and present the searchers with actionable information,” Ogden said. “We’re uniquely positioned to help. Because misleading clues are often easily accessible, searchers might chase that one bad clue. We’re extremely familiar with good and bad data.”

Most often, the Cell Phone Forensics Team is able to point searchers in the right direction. Since its inception in 2006, Ogden and the team have assisted in finding over 700 people and saving 486 lives.

“That’s why we do it,” said team member Ready, an early team member who also serves as vice commander of CAP’s Southwest Region. Ogden said the team often balances availability with mission priorities, which has led to the recent additions of Hoff and Scofield.

Ogden and Ready have been honored on numerous occasions for their efforts, most notably with the 2014 1st Air Force (AFNORTH) Commander’s Award, which was presented to both men in August 2015, and the 2010 National Aeronautic Association Public Benefit Flying Award in the Distinguished Volunteer category, which was presented to Ogden.