Cell Phone Team Guides Searchers to Lost N.M. Man
Capt. Margot Myers
Public Information Officer
National Cell Phone Forensics Team
The combined efforts of Civil Air Patrol’s National Cell Phone Forensics Team, New Mexico Wing aircrews and New Mexico State Search and Rescue resulted in the rescue early Sunday of a man stranded after abandoning his car.
As with many cell phone team missions, this one started in the middle of the night when New Mexico SAR contacted the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center to request assistance.
The alert message read, “NM State SAR is requesting cell forensics in the search for a missing 25-year-old man who was driving from Lordsburg to Santa Fe. He took a back road and ran into a gate, where he could not continue with his vehicle. He was ‘dying of thirst’ and decided to continue on foot. … He called his mother to tell her he was stranded and hurt. His mother reported him missing at 1800 MDT (6 p.m. Mountain time) when she called 911.”
Maj. Justin Ogden of the cell phone team was awakened at 3 a.m. Eastern time by the AFRCC, and the rest of the team was alerted. Ogden was soon joined by Maj. Jerad Hoff.
Bob Baker, on-call area commander for the New Mexico search agency, told the Santa Fe New Mexican the missing man “got himself turned around. He was thrown into a wilderness situation without tools and equipment.”
The man’s cell phone call to his mother pinged a cell tower across the border in Duncan, Arizona – a somewhat misleading clue. Taking a deep dive into data provided by the cell phone provider, Ogden and Hoff found an area where the coverage of two towers that had interacted with the phone overlapped, defining an area to start the search.
A check of topographical maps of the most likely search area, based on the cell phone forensic analysis, revealed a road with what appeared to be a fence or gate across it. A set of latitude/longitude coordinates was sent to the state search agency. Shortly before daybreak, the AFRCC alerted the New Mexico Wing to assist in the search.
Cell phone team member Maj. John Schofield tagged in early Sunday and worked with Lt. Col. Larry Zentner, incident commander for the wing, to review Ogden and Hoff’s overnight analysis. Planes from Las Cruces and Albuquerque were sent to the search area, and by 8:45 a.m. local time a CAP plane located the missing man’s abandoned car.
Just after 10 a.m. a New Mexico state wildlife officer found the man, about 2 miles northwest of the car.
Severely dehydrated but conscious, he was carried to an ambulance and transported to the incident base, where his family was waiting. They took him to a hospital in Silver City, New Mexico, near their home.
Baker, who has worked with the cell phone Team before, had high praise for its contribution to the mission.
“We had no defined IPP (initial planning point)/LKP (last known position) to serve as a starting point for our search,” he said.
“No good cell info/no car. You helped us find the car and that led to everything else. Couldn’t have done it without you!”
The AFRCC credited CAP with its 75th save of the fiscal year.