Here’s a fact that you’ll never see on an FAA knowledge exam but that could wind up saving your life. Your phone might be the best technology you have to get found if your flight goes missing.
If that sounds far fetched, consider this: When you think of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), you almost surely envision high-wing planes flying a grid pattern to locate what might be a lost plane in the wilderness. Today, the very first thing searchers do in response to an overdue flight is look at the cell phone data.
As you know, the Electronic Locator Transmitter technology worked on the 121.54 frequency, and it was the source of a lot of false alerts. In recent years that ELT technology has been retired, replaced by similar beacons that transmit in case of a crash but send their signals more reliably via satellite.
When the CAP gets a call, often, thankfully, their initial efforts lead to the conclusion you’d hope for, that the plane is safely tied down an airport somewhere and not balled up in the woods miles from help. But when the search is indeed for people in distress and miles from rescue, the CAP’s electronic search capabilities prove fruitful and lives are saved. How many?
The CAP recently hit a milestone when it made its 1,000th verified save since 2006 of a person lost or stranded in the wilderness in life-threatening conditions. The technology, which the CAP leverages through its relationship with the United States Air Force, can be amazingly accurate.
An example. Three people survived a plane crash in the snowy Berkshire Mountains, and despite the fact the mountains might have seemed dreamlike on account of that frosting, three lives were in very real danger if the crash survivors didn’t get help and fast. The CAP got the call fast, and using a combination of cell phone analysis and radar data, it was able to locate the downed plane in eight minutes and get help to them in less than an hour. All three survived an ordeal that might otherwise have ended tragically.
The CAP still does its work the old fashioned way, by looking for plane crashes by air, but they recognize that there are limits to searchers’ ability to spot crashed planes on the ground. By using all the available electronic tools, the organization says that its work is better than ever. In 2018 the organization conducted 373 missions, and all but a few were done with the assistance of the cell phone forensics team.
We’re not saying that satellite locators aren’t a good idea. They are! But until you get one, keep that cell phone charged up and turned on.