Oklahoma Civil Air Patrol (CAP) conducted search and rescue scenarios at Grove Municipal Airport this weekend.
The approximately 80 participants practiced several different search and rescues, mostly looking for downed aircraft in the woods and an emergency beacon at the airport on Monkey Island.
"The Civil Air Patrol is responsible for about 90 percent of the mainland searches and rescues in the U.S. In order to stay current in our training we consistently do activities. About
once a quarter we will bring everyone in from around all over
the state, converge on one location and go through a number
of different training scenarios to keep us sharp," said First
Lieutenant Rick Rutledge, of Muskogee.
On both Saturday and Sunday CAP worked on missing airplane and ELT retrieval scenarios. ELT is a box on an airplane that sends a signal to a satellite that tells the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Florida that says "hey, I've crashed, something's gone wrong, then they call us and we use a piece of equipment in the airplane and then we go and find it," said Lt. Rutledge.
According to Rutledge,CAP had seven of the nine rescue planes they have statewide on hand for these exercises in Grove and four ground teams to assist from the ground level. CAP participants came from all over Oklahoma including Altus, Enid and Loughton, a big contingency from Oklahoma City, a big group from Tulsa
Next year they hope to plan training activities with wings from Arkansas and Texas. "It will be interesting because that doesn't happen very often. So getting everybody together and see how everyone operates kind of gives us a breath of fresh air and an opportunity to really see how other people do it," said Rutledge.
"Most of the time we get called to a rescue it's because an airplane has filed a flight plan to leave one airport and arrived at another at a certain time and it doesn't show up and the last point of contact was here, so they (The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center) send us out to go look for them starting with the last point of contact," he said.
The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center is responsible for all inland search and rescue in the U.S. according to Rutledge. He said the center gets phone calls from air traffic control, listens to satellites that monitor emergency beacons, and they get phone calls from the National Guard and local law enforcement.
"They are responsible for coordinating all the efforts for all search and rescue for the inland United States. We are their lead agency," said Rutledge. Civil Air Patrol Cadets are students ages 12 - 21. Cadets have opportunities to get into airplanes all year long, but can't actively participate in emergency services activities as a cadet until they are 18, and then they are limited at that point as well. Because of this, the cadets worked mainly on ground rescue work. "It keeps them operational and gives them an opportunity to see what really goes on. Cadets are support for the air crew and
act as the eyes and ears on the ground" Rutledge explained.
He explained that when they are doing a rescue, ground crews do a lot of interviews and talk to local people, but the aircrews can't do that while they are in a plane searching.
"The ground crews are actually down here looking and talking and finding clues. They are asking neighbors, 'What did you see?' They are able to decipher all that and relay it to the aircrews," he said. "We provide all the training several times throughout the year. That really helps," he said.
If the cadets want to move on to the military, this training will help them go on to bigger and better things in the military. Rutledge explained that for example if a cadet has achieved the fi rst offi cer rank called the Mitchell Award, and goes to enlist in the Air Force, and graduates from basic training, he will come out with a higher rank and pay and have one more stripe than the other graduates.
"So you get paid more and already have one more stripe than everyone else," he said. According to Rutledge, about one in every 15 cadets reaches that milestone. "Most of the cadets enjoy CAP. They get into CAP because they want to learn how to fl y. We provide them with opportunities for that as well. We have a very discounted program we offer," he said.
The cost of flight training is about $6,000, but they offer it for about $1,000. A lot of the funding comes from the Air Force. Flight training is only offered to individuals younger than 21 years old, however they offer other
flight training and opportunities for those over 21.