Sunday, October 20, 2013

Search And Rescue Part II

Dale Matson

It has been almost a year since my last SAR call out. Semi-retired civilian folks like me are usually available during the week when the regulars are at their day jobs. I was called out Tuesday around noon to look for parts of a twin engine Cessna that crashed near Dinkey Creek road not far from the Village of Shaver Lake. A father and son perished in the crash on Saturday evening on their way from California to Nebraska. My drive up took about an hour and fifteen minutes.

I was on the search team that was looking for the wings and tail to help the FAA piece together the plane in an effort to understand the cause of the crash. As I pulled up to the Command Post (C.P.) area along Dinkey Creek Road, I could see that much of the plane wreckage had been loaded onto a flatbed trailer parked on the road shoulder. I had a sick feeling in my stomach as I imagined the last seconds of the occupants headed toward earth in a plane with no wings or tail. The plane wreckage was covered with a blue tarp and reminded me of human remains covered with a blanket after a car crash.

We were briefed by Sergeant Montalvo of the Fresno County Sheriff’s SAR unit and Eliott Simpson from the FAA. We were led to the main crash site which was only about fifty yards off Dinkey Creek Road. The crash melted the snow layer on the ground at just under 6,000’ of elevation. The ground underneath was still frozen. The FAA had a trajectory of the plane until it disappeared from the radar. Beginning at the crash site, we formed a line and worked our way back along the bearing given us. Keeping each other in sight, we walked the flight path of the plane.

Off trail searches are slow and difficult. We were told that we might even see plane parts hanging from above in the trees. We didn't know initially that the wings of the plane were white and landing on snow made them almost invisible. There had already been a search with a much larger group on Sunday with no results.

We had a turnaround time of 4:40 pm to get back to the road before dark. Robin and Bill were on my left outbound and found the first wing about a mile out. It was on the ground and nearly invisible in the snow. It was also partially covered with evergreen debris. Bill marked the location on the wing with a “Sharpie” pen and we marked the location on our GPS units also.

I was glad Robin and Bill found the first wing since I knew for certain what I was looking for and what color it was. About a quarter mile further out, I spotted the other wing to my right. It had landed on a rock outcropping and slid down until stopped by several small trees. We marked that wing and its location and continued outbound looking for the tail.

4:30pm came and we decided it best to look for the tail on the way back. We shifted our bearing further right (inbound) but didn’t find the tail. When we got back to the C.P., we downloaded our respective units to the Terrain Navigator software map used by Fresno County. I had photographs and later sent them to Mr. Simpson. The tail was found the following day by another search group. I had run the Two Cities Marathon about a week before and my legs were not ready for another off trail search the following day. RIP Patrick and Scott.   

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