Sunday, March 30, 2014

March 2014 - First UDF Find!

By 2nd Lt Eric Choate

I called the Incident Commander (IC), Maj. Luneau, shortly after receiving the red alert email for an Aircrew, Ground Crew, and UDF team to search for an ELT northwest of Sacramento.  He said he already had a full aircrew forming in Concord, but would be forming the UDF team soon.  The email came asking for a member with an Oakland badge and a CAP drivers license.  I had both, and after a brief exchange of emails four squadron 188 members were en route to the squadron.

Non-mission photo of CAP4114 used in search
I arrived to find Lt. Chavez retrieving the DF equipment from the cabinet.  I retrieved the van from the airport side (hence the badge requirement) and we commenced loading our Grand Caravan CAP4114 with Lt. Perreira, who had just arrived to help.  Lt. Rugroden arrived and we obtained our tasking from Maj. Luneau.

We were to drive north and clear Angwin and Pope Valley airports, then call in for further instructions.  With the paperwork and vehicle inspection complete, the four of us headed north with myself driving, Rugroden operating the radio, Perreira navigating, and Chavez keeping the log and teaching the UDF-Ts everything we needed to know.

Non-mission photo of CAP481 used in search
Time went by fast - soon were passing Napa airport, and could hear the mission unfolding on the radio with CAP481 launching from Concord and soon flying over us, and Ground Team 1 making their way up I5.  As we were climbing the hill to Angwin, the aircraft reported they had passed Angwin and the signal was still northeast of their position.  With that knowledge, Maj. Luneau asked us to turn around and head east on 128.

Radio reception was poor as we approached the intersection of Pope Valley road and 128.   Unsure if the IC still wanted us to clear Pope Valley Airport, we pulled over to see if we could get a call, or text into the CI and take a bathroom break and stretch our legs for a moment.  Not surprisingly the cell reception was poor as well.  Rugroden tried different repeaters to no avail.  That's when I remembered that my cell phone gets more bars whenever I hold it near anything metal.  First I tried the van door, it went from no bars to one bar.  Then I remembered the van has lots of real antennas on the roof.  I got three to four bars when I placed it near one of the antennas on the roof.  Bingo!  I shot off a text to Maj. Luneau asking if he wanted us to continue on 128, or clear Pope Valley.

He confirmed the aircraft had already cleared Pope Valley and instructed us to continue on 128 to 505 and call him again when we got there.  Right about that time, Rugroden was able to get the same message over the CAP radio.  We all loaded up, and headed east.  The road was winding and slow.  Finally we broke out of the hills and arrived at Winters.  Maj. Luneau instructed us to drive north on 505 to I5 and rendezvous with Ground Team 1.

By this time, CAP481 had narrowed the search area to the town of Dunnigan confirming the ELT would most likely be coming from the aircraft that crashed there the day before.  We arrived in Dunnigan at about 2am.  There we met up with Ground Team 1 and waited about 30 minutes for the Sheriff who would lead us out to and open a gate for us.  Just east of town, the Sheriff let us through the gate and we all parked a short distance inside the gate.

From there members of GT1 and UDF1, with DF equipment in hand, proceeded to walk down the road in the direction of the signal.  About a 1/4 mile down the road, the signal started to indicate that we were close.  Soon an out of place tail of an aircraft emerged from the darkness, reflecting the light from our head lamps.  We'd found it!

It was nose down but largely intact.  The ELT was visible just behind the co-pilot seat.  With the assistance of the Sheriff, we were able to silence the beacon.  Make, model and serial number of the ELT were reported to the IC, along with the N number of the aircraft.  We then headed back to the vehicles, loaded up and headed back into town.  A quick bathroom break turned into coffee and breakfast as it was 4am by this time.  An hour and a half later we were back at the squadron.

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