Airmen aid in search for stranded hiker
By SOF Editor on Wed, 12/09/2009 - 10:52am
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- Members of the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center here aided in search operations with local and state agencies to save a stranded man late Dec. 1 in the Sonoran Desert in Apache Junction, Ariz. The young man was hiking on Superstition Mountain, became stranded and was suffering from hypothermia. He placed a 911 call on his cell phone when his phone battery died. The Pinal Country Sherriff's Office contacted the AFRCC staff to ask for federal assistance to locate the individual in distress. Members of the AFRCC responded by coordinating with Justin Ogden, a captain in the Civil Air Patrol's Arizona wing, to use his expertise in cell phone forensics. Based on information he gleaned from the hiker's last cell phone hit, he was able to reduce the search area to less than 1 square mile. Under federal law, cell phone companies can voluntarily divulge cell phone data to federal agencies such as the AFRCC, when it is being used for lifesaving purposes involving the owner. "In this case, I was able to work with the stranded hiker's cellular provider and use current data to help narrow the search area down to a more defined area," Captain Ogden said. The hiker was rescued by a Maricopa County Sherriff helicopter and taken to the bottom of Superstition Mountain where he was met by family members. As the United States' inland search and rescue coordinator, the AFRCC serves as the single agency responsible for coordinating federal search and rescue activities in the 48 contiguous United States. "Captain Ogden's ability to utilize cell phone data to reduce search areas is an invaluable asset to the AFRCC," said Lt. Col. Charles Tomko, the AFRCC commander. "By minimizing our search areas, we have a greater chance of effectively saving lives." The AFRCC directly ties in to the Federal Aviation Administration alerting system and the U.S. Mission Control Center. In addition to Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking information, the AFRCC computer system contains resource files that list federal and state organizations that can conduct or assist in search and rescue efforts throughout North America. Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with 58,000 members nationwide. CAP performs 90 percent of the continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the AFRCC and was credited with saving 91 lives in fiscal 2008. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and counter-drug missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies.