14:03 PM

ELT Leads N.C. Wing Aircrew to Crashed Cessna on Christmas

A North Carolina Wing aircrew spotted a downed Cessna 172 on a mountainside Christmas Day after tracking an electronic beacon detected the night before, leading ground rescuers from a local fire department to the plane and its pilot.

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) alerted the wing at 9 p.m. Christmas Eve that an electronic locator beacon had gone off somewhere in the western section of North Carolina.

An Asheville-based plane attempted to conduct an electronic search for the beacon, but local surface winds and high winds in the potential search area exceeded safety limits, and the pilot elected not to fly. The AFRCC suspended the search for the night.

Shortly after daybreak on Christmas, additional reports by high-altitude aircraft helped Civil Air Patrol focus the search on an area a few miles north of Lake Lure. The downed plane’s beacon enabled a CAP aircrew to locate the Cessna at 11:30 a.m.

Local authorities contacted by North Carolina Wing members were able to find the plane and pilot, who had minor cuts and bruises. The wing will be credited with a save.

The aircrew that spotted the Cessna was piloted by Lt. Col. John May, North Carolina Wing director of emergency services, with 2nd Lt. Nicholas Gulla of the 111th Search and Rescue Composite Squadron serving as mission observer and 1st Lt. Hazard J. Bentley III of the Charlotte Senior Squadron as mission scanner.

Maj. Gen. Mark E. Smith, CAP national commander, said the wing’s “actions reflect what is great about our organization. Thanks so much for your excellence, professionalism and tireless dedication!”

“The North Carolina Wing spends a considerable amount of time training to serve our state, and seeing such a positive outcome is why we serve,” said Col. R. Jason Bailey, wing commander. “Thank you to everyone who spent their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day helping with this mission!”