IDEAL SAR SCENARIO

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This page may seem overly simple to experienced search and rescue personnel.   While it may not be necessary to these people, perhaps it is something to consider for the rest of us.   This scenario gives a goal to mold our practice efforts: if we can turn every search into the ideal one, we've done our job very well!   While we should constantly train to make every search the ideal, we shouldn't train in such a way that doesn't allow for variation.   Practice searches should be sufficiently difficult to challenge those being trained.   I use this scenario to teach students a goal to strive for.

That being said, it is almost a given that the "fog and friction" or a real search can never be duplicated in practice.   The real ones are always much more difficult than are the practice ones.   In these cases it is even more important to attempt to achieve the ideal.

In an ideal world, we'd never have aircraft accidents.   As a necessary evil to launch a search, however, let's assume that an aircraft makes a forced landing in an off-airport and remote location.   The best place to set down an aircraft is generally an open field that is unhampered by obstructions such as trees or mountains.   Knowing what a pilot would want in an emergency is to help unlock the secrets of what she or he may have actually done.   Let's say the pilot was able to locate and open and ideal field.

The ELT remains undamaged during the crash and properly transmits.   The responsible aircraft owner has a 406 MHz ELT that is coupled with a GPS.

The NOAA United States Mission Control Center (USMCC) receives an alert about the 406 MHz from its synchronous GOES satellites immediately upon activation.   They relay this information to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

The AFRCC compares the beacon's registration to the national database.   A quick phone search is initiated to the registered owner.   Ideally an aircraft owner such as a rental fixed base operator, corporation, or even private ownership should be able to identify the status of the aircraft.   That is, in our case the person to whom the aircraft was registered is able to confirm that the aircraft is 1) not at its home base or in its hanger and/or 2) it is actively on a flight or trip.

SARSAT-COSPAS satellites make passes on the ELT site.   Using doppler shift, it determines a latitude-longitude pair of coordinates.   These coordinates match well with those provided from the GPS on board the aircraft.  

The AFRCC also receives, via the USMCC, the encoded GPS coordinates from the 406 ELT with GPS.   Judiciously, the appropriate CAP wing is notified.   The Mission Coordinator puts together an aircrew and a ground team.   Both are dispatched to the GPS coordinates.   With this new technology system, the response of the SAR crew is perhaps the slowest link.  

If the 406/GPS system is validated, we might be able to look ahead to a change of responders in this sort of situation.   It is easily conceivable that local law enforcement and/or fire protection personnel could be able to navigate to a GPS lat-long coordinate with a minimum of training.   This could drastically reduce the time-to-rescue for these simplest of searches. nbsp;; It is quite possible that Civil Air Patrol will not even be activated to prosecute this type of search--because the search will be all but over once the GPS coordinates are received!  

Getting back along with our hypothetical search, though, we have responded to the call and are proceeding by land and air to the coordinates provided by the AFRCC.   Darkness set in several hours ago--not the ideal, but real!

The aircrew locates the target first, using both the coordinates and DF techniques.   The signal seems to be emanating from a large, unlit area.   Utilizing terrain charts and nearby features, the aircrew determines that this area is probably a farm field.   The nearest visible structure is a farmhouse with a large area light, about a quarter of a mile south of the signal.

Communicating directly with the ground team, the aircrew describes their position to the ground team.   They utilize the AirLand SAR concept to coordinate.   Both crews coordinated closely prior to launch; they therefore are able to use the same type of map in order to communicate clearly with one another.   Practical experience has shown that one group using a Sectional chart and the other using a state highway map isn't the ideal of situations.

The ground team closes on the aircraft's position.   The ground team utilizes strobe lights and searchlights, and the aircrew is able to pinpoint the ground team's position.   The aircrew then vectors the ground team to the farmhouse.   The team asks permission to access the land.   The owner graciously grants this permission and even offers to guide the team on his land.  

The ground team now quickly moves over the last quarter mile to the aircraft wreckage.   Arriving on scene, a safety assessment is made: it is safe to enter the crash site to examine the occupants.   Two occupants are found still in their restraints; they're alive but require immediate medical attention.

The ground team calls 911 via a cell phone and relays the rural route address.   Two ambulances are immediately dispatched, along with local law enforcement.   A helicopter evacuation is deemed advisable by the arriving paramedics, and the ground team aids in setting up the landing zone within the field.   The helicopter is able to navigate to the site via GPS coordinates supplied by the CAP aircrew.   Additionally, the region's air traffic control center is able to vector the helicopter based upon radar surveillance of the CAP aircraft.   The airplane and the helicopter coordinate with one another to ensure deconfliction, and the helicopter successfully extracts the injured personnel.

A job well done!

This page of the CAP Emergency Services Resources website was last updated 07/02/2008

1998 - 2006 Scott E. Lanis.  All Rights Reserved.