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    Ariz. Wing aircrew provides vital communications link for stranded searchers

    February 21, 2017

    An Arizona Wring aircrew was able to establish communications Sunday with a stranded ground team that had been cut off from their base by high water during a search for a missing hiker.

    The Gila County Sheriff’s Office ground search and rescue team had been dispatched Friday to look for a hiker reported missing in the remote Twin Buttes area near strawberry.

    After severe weather blocked the ground team’s return, the Arizona Wing was asked to provide communications support as soon as weather permitted, as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. A two-member aircrew from Deer Valley Composite Squadron 302 took off at 2 p.m. Sunday in a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182 and headed north.

    At the same time, two teams from the wing’s ground team departed for 5,204-foot Humboldt Mountain, about 27 miles southwest of the Gila County team’s location.

    Less than 20 minutes after departure, the CAP Cessna made contact with the Gila County team 12,500 feet overhead. The aircrew relayed messages between all participants while aloft. 

    Col. Martha Morris, Arizona Wing commander, kept tabs on the mission throughout the day. “Our air and ground teams were able to establish communications that were critical to the success of this mission,” Morris said.

    The nearby Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office provided a helicopter to extract the Gila County team from the canyon. 

    "It was a great relief when we heard the first radio contact between the CAP airplane and our people on the ground,” said Sgt. Dennis Newman of the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. “CAP solved a big problem for us, but we still have to go back out tomorrow to continue looking for the missing hiker.”

    Maj. Paul Combellick, assistant director of emergency services for the wing, managed CAP air operations from the Deer Valley Incident Command Post and Maj. Dallas Lane, wing search and rescue officer, oversaw the Arizona Wing Ground Team. 

    “Arizona Wing has a good, long-standing relationship with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. Helping our search and rescue colleagues from Gila County was very rewarding,” Lane said.

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