National Cell Phone Forensics Team: 5 days, 3 saves, 2 finds
Capt. Margot Myers
Public Information Officer
National Cell Phone Forensics Team
Civil Air Patrol’s National Cell Phone Forensics Team participated in two searches over a five-day period that resulted in three saves and two finds, as credited by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.
The first mission was a search for Joshua McClatchy, a 38-year-old hiker from Texas reported missing in the Caney Creek Wilderness Area east of Mena, Arkansas. McClatchy set out from the Buckeye Trailhead on May 31. Later the following day, he texted his mother that he was in trouble and needed help. Local search and rescue teams started looking for him that same day.
After several days of searching without success, the search and rescue coordinator for Polk County, Arkansas, contacted the AFRCC on June 7 for assistance, and the cell phone forensics team was tasked to assist with the search.
A photo McClatchy had sent his mother on June 1 – the day he later reported being in trouble – provided one clue about his location. Combining that image with forensic analysis of his phone’s interaction with cellular towers in the area enabled the team to provide several targeted search areas to local search and rescue officials by mid-afternoon.
Maj. Justin Ogden of the cell phone team told local officials, “With the historical data from the cell phone provider, we will paint a well-defined but large area. Local knowledge will be needed to make the most of it.”
According to The Mena Star, “Polk County Sheriff Scott Sawyer received data earlier today (June 7) that analyzed cellular activity of McClatchy, allowing the search and rescue teams to work toward his likely location.”
Cell phone team member Col. Brian Ready was told that the team's material regarding the most likely search area, combined with other clues and search tools, “reinforced the sheriff’s decision to request a helicopter to assist with the search. Equipped with FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared), the Air National Guard helicopter crew, within a short period of time in the area, spotted (McClatchy) crawling around with a flashlight.” The helicopter, with Polk County Sheriff Scott Sawyer on board, guided ground teams to McClatchy.
The second mission involved a 40-year-old man and his 9-year-old son, both of whom fell from a ledge at the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. Unable to climb back out, they called 911.
One of the cell phone team’s tools is text messaging to the person who is missing. It identifies the text as coming from the AFRCC and asks the recipient to click on a link. Doing that provided very accurate location information.
In this case, the father clicked on the link and the cell phone team was able to send Scott Lucas, the Oregon State Search and Rescue coordinator, a latitude/longitude coordinate that was accurate plus or minus 15 meters.
Lucas said a search team was dispatched to the location, but very rough and difficult terrain meant that locating the missing father and son would take some time. AFRCC learned that an advanced ropes team from the 304th Rescue Squadron, a National Guard unit from Portland, headed out late in the afternoon to help search for the pair.
By 8:30 p.m. AFRCC reported that the father and son were rescued safely.