Three members of the Golden Triangle Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol recently conducted a mission each could classify as “a first.”
Saturday, 2nd Lt. Jon Maynard, 1st Lt. Jay Burrell and Maj. Trey Breckenridge were conducting a route survey assignment for Columbus Air Force Base when they responded to a Jackson Hartsfield International Airport air traffic control message about a downed aircraft.
A two-seater passenger plane that took off from Jackson Hawkins Field crashed in a soybean field just six miles south of Raymond. No one aboard the Civil Air Patrol Cessna knew the severity of the crash, but each were ready to provide logistics information to rescue teams on the ground.
Within 10 minutes of the crash, the GTCS Civil Air Patrol crew located the site and the the two passengers, who had left the wreckage and wandered a half mile away from the site.
The crew, which performs 90 percent of search-and-rescue missions tasked by the United States Air Force, had experience in similar missions. They”d worked closely with CAFB during T-6 crashes at Mantee and Shuqualak to locate ejection seats and gather information for safety review boards.
However, those missions almost always involved a pre-flight briefing.
“Typically, we”re not in the air when these sort of things happen,” said Maynard. “We had zero planning up front. This demonstrated our training really paid off and that we could respond immediately.”
The location of the crash wasn”t visible from a public road. GPS coordinates couldn”t specifically identify the location of the crash; the closest road was a half-mile north of the crash site, but to get there rescue teams would have to access a road a mile south of the site.
The three men aboard the plane radioed the coordinates back to air traffic controllers and rescue personnel, guiding ground crews to the general area before using their emergency band radio to navigate them to the crash site.
”Right place, right time”
“We were in the right place at the right time, and we had the training and equipment to help,” Burrell said. “With the recently upgraded CAP radio equipment, we were able to speak directly to the local fire and rescue responders to quickly and easily guide them to the scene with the least amount of confusion.”
The passengers of the downed aircraft were able to radio air traffic controllers and let them know they weren”t injured. But with temperatures nearing 100 degrees, the wandering passengers were straying further from the site and in the opposite direction of rescue personnel.
“If emergency vehicles found the plane, they would not have seen the passengers,” Burrell said. “A big concern was that they wouldn”t be found in a timely manner. They were probably in shock after that accident. I”m sure they had a little adrenaline pumping.”
Maynard, a copilot on the Civil Air Patrol Cessna, said the passengers found dead ends in two different directions before making a half-circle back toward the crash site.
The Civil Air Patrol circled the wandering passengers and updated rescue crews of their location until they were found. It took only 50 minutes from the time of the crash until the pilot and passenger were met by emergency services.
The passengers didn”t report serious injuries.
“The three of us work well as a team,” Breckenridge said. “It takes that to pull this off, particularly in a case as sudden as this.”
Though the Civil Air Patrol practices rescue scenarios in various scopes each week, Saturday”s support mission was particularly exciting, Burrell said.
“I can”t imagine how it could not be a rush,” he said. “But training, as much as anything, is to push adrenaline to the side and focus with a methodology that gets you as close to success as possible. You get that rush going and it”s real easy to try and be the hero and do everything. You can”t be successful doing that, so it was important that each of us channeled that adrenaline and used the training we had.”
Burrell, Maynard and Breckenridge are volunteers in the Civil Air Patrol, a nonprofit organization, and have no military service experience. Burrell is manager of information system services at Mississippi State University, while Breckenridge is director of computing and operations at the high-performance computing collaboratory at MSU. Maynard is CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.
Aerospace education is a key element of the Civil Air Patrol, which has a cadet program that teaches young men and women disciplined-style activities to prepare them for military service.