16:58 PM

Cell Phone Forensics Team Aids Colorado Rescuers Searching for Missing Cousins

By Capt. Margot A. Myers
Arizona Wing Public Affairs Officer
National Cell Phone Forensics Team PIO

Two teenage cousins, 16 and 18, didn’t return as expected from an overnight winter camping trip northwest of Boulder, Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains and were reported overdue by family members. The two left on the afternoon of Saturday, October 13, and were supposed to return on Sunday. Ten inches of snow and temperatures in single digits on Saturday night complicated the search, prompting the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group to request help through the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

Civil Air Patrol’s National Cell Phone Forensics Team was tasked with supporting the rescue efforts. Majs. Justin Ogden and John Schofield of the team worked with two cell phone service providers to obtain data about where the campers’ phones had been used. By analyzing information, including when the boys’ cell phones were used to make calls or send texts, Ogden and Schofield were able to direct Boulder County Sheriff’s Office rescue teams to the most likely area where the boys would be.

The mother of one of the boys had two options for where she thought the campers had gone, but no car was found at their stated destination. There are numerous trailheads in the area and the campers could have chosen any of them.

At 1 a.m. on Monday, using information provided by the CAP cell phone team, rescuers located the car and targeted their search in the surrounding area. The two missing campers were found wet and cold, but in good condition overall. Rocky Mountain Rescue told the AFRCC that the CAP team’s analysis and recommendations for the most likely area to search were critical in locating the missing teens.

The AFRCC credited two “saves” to the cell phone team — its first lives saved of the new fiscal year.

Jeff Sparhawk of Rocky Mountain Rescue followed up with cell phone team members after the boys were found.

“You likely made the difference between those boys keeping their toes and feet or not,” Sparhawk said. “Turns out, the snow drifts were chest deep, they broke a tent pole and couldn't keep the snow out of their tent so everything was wet and frozen. It was only with great difficulty that we got their frozen shoes on them. They had consciously made the decision that they could not move and were going to stay put and wait for rescue."

He  noted that members of the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office were very impressed with the work of the cell phone team and asked him to explain how they can appropriately engage with the team in the future.