18:02 PM

Radar, Cell Forensics Info Helps Fla. Searchers Find Fatal Crash Site

Civil Air Patrol’s National Radar Analysis Team and Civil Air Patrol Cellular Forensics Team were able to pinpoint the location of a missing Beechcraft in Dixie County, Florida, helping the local sheriff's office find the aircraft and its deceased pilot early Friday by using a drone within 1,328 feet of the location provided.

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center notified CAP’s Florida Wing of an overdue aircraft reported to them at 1:30 p.m. local time Thursday. The plane’s owner and friend of the pilot reported that the aircraft had been expected Wednesday evening in Melbourne but never arrived. No Federal Aviation Administration flight plan had been filed.

Using FAA radar history, the CAP radar team quickly supplied the Florida Wing with a plot of the aircraft’s flight path from Guntersville, Alabama, to a location north of Cross City, Florida, where the plane disappeared from radar.

The Florida Wing assigned a CAP plane on a training flight in the vicinity out of Tampa Executive Airport to perform an initial fly-over of the area targeted by radar. The wing also assembled a search and rescue crew for another aircraft out of Orlando Sanford International Airport.

The first aircraft detected no emergency locator transmitter signal and saw no indication of a crash site. The second aircraft arrived near dark and detected a very faint beacon signal near the location identified by radar data. That aircrew coordinated with a rescue helicopter from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, which had been requested by the Dixie County Sheriff’s Office.

While the first aircraft and helicopter found no signs of a crash site, they confirmed the radar and cellphone forensics information pointed to the right area. Weather and darkness prevented continuation of the search Thursday night.

Civil Air Patrol dispatched a ground team with direction-finding capabilities to continue the search early Friday in the area the forensics teams indicated. While the ground team was headed to the location, CAP received word that the Dixie County Sheriff’s Office believed it had located a crash site near the CAP-provided coordinates.

The ground team met up with the deputies to confirm the crash site and secure the downed plane’s emergency beacon. The wreckage was deep in a stand of heavy tree growth, making detection from the air very difficult. The sheriff’s office confirmed the pilot was the only person on board and had suffered fatal injuries.