A Needle In A Haystack
Current ELT systems can make life difficult for search and rescue
At 10:31, BTV received a call from AFRCC to begin investigating an ELT incident, which prompted FAA personnel to link the ELT incident with the PA-32-300 airplane. At 11:04, Boston ATC learned from the New York TRACON that a controller had “worked” the PA-32-300 and that the pilot had cancelled his IFR flight plan and changed his destination to Barnes Municipal Airport (BAF), Westfield, Mass., due to icing. Also about 11:04, specialists at BTV notified the Massachusetts State Police and Great Barrington Police Department of the reported ELT signal.
In the meantime, Boston controllers received a notification from the Bradley, Conn., (BDL) TRACON that an airplane had received a strong ELT signal in the vicinity of the “MOBBS” intersection. Boston reported this finding to AFRCC at 11:16, relaying that the PA-32-300 was overdue, but may have landed at BAF. At 11:23, Boston completed a National Track Analysis Program (NTAP) and reported to AFRCC that the last known position of the airplane was about three miles south-southeast of Canaan, Conn.
At 11:26, Boston notified BTV that the pilot had cancelled his IFR flight plan with the New York TRACON controller, continued VFR and may have diverted to BAF. The controller added that “the last hit coincides with where they’re getting those ELT reports.” Ten minutes later, Boston received a call from the police reporting that they didn’t find the airplane. Boston then called AFRCC and asked if a search had been initiated at the last NTAP coordinates. AFRCC then called the Massachusetts Civil Air Patrol (CAP) to open the ELT incident with them at 11:43.
At 11:48, Boston controllers contacted the Connecticut State Police and notified them about a possible airplane accident in the Canaan/Sheffield area. Several minutes later, Boston controllers confirmed with AFRCC that the last radar hits were just south of Canaan, at 2,200 feet, at 6:50:59. At 12:06 a.m., BTV notified the Massachusetts State Police of the ELT signal near Sheffield. The Massachusetts State Police immediately notified the Sheffield Police Department, who contacted BTV seeking additional information.
Between 12:06 and 1:45, search-and-rescue operations intensified. At 1:53, AFRCC called the Air Force 84th Radar Valuation Squadron (84th RADES) and requested data recorded from Air Force radar, which might show the PA-32-300. At 2:30, Massachusetts State Police reported that their helicopters were unable to fly due to the extreme weather conditions (25 mph winds with gusts to 40 mph expected). At 2:50, the Massachusetts CAP reported to AFRCC that four ground teams had launched and another airplane was preparing to launch.