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Anatomy of a Missing Person Search

Ground Team and Victim
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Ground Team and "missing camper." L-R: Maj. Brian Buczkowski, Maj. Bob McGlohon (camper), C/2nd Lt. Noah Hoffer
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SAREX Teams Working Together


Birkhead Mountain Wilderness Area – Throughout the day, January 16, 2010, NC Wing Civil Air Patrol members participated in a statewide search and rescue exercise, conducted missing person searches and simulated disaster relief missions. Due to the terrain in the Uhwharrie Mountains, ground teams reported spotty communications, which is a real world problem. Even cell phone contact was impossible at times.

Mission Incident Commander Maj. Andy Wiggs stated that Ground Team Bravo had been dispatched to locate a missing person in the Birkhead Mountain area, located about four miles South of the Asheville Airport. An aircraft, piloted by Capt Chuck Dawson, with Mission Observer 2nd Lt. Chuck Clayton, and Mission Scanner SM Jonathan Hope was assigned to conduct a grid search and to coordinate with Ground Team Bravo.

At the same time two additional ground team members, Maj. Brian Buczkowski and C/2nd Lt. Noah Hoffer, were attempting to join up with Ground Team Bravo to provide additional radio support, but they lost communications with mission base.

The mission scanner spotted a signal mirror on the ground and then noted someone waving his arms. Mission base was contacted and the aircraft was directed to continue circling. The two ground team members looking for Bravo team overheard the aircraft communications and joined in the search. In short order they located the individual and popped a can of orange smoke. The aircraft was then able to report the exact coordinates of the “victim.”

“We gained invaluable experience from this mission,” Wiggs said. “Communications between a mission base and our people out in the field is compounded by terrain and distance. In this case, despite the difficulties encountered, we affected a successful mission.”

The mission pilot, Capt. Dawson, mentioned that his aircrew was flying their first mission as trainees. He commended the manner in which they handled communications and spotted the subject on the ground.