NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS -- Two adults and four children missing nearly two days in bitter winter conditions in rural northwestern Nevada’s rugged, mountainous Seven Troughs Range were found alive and well Tuesday afternoon by Civil Air Patrol in coordination with Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, Fallon Naval Air Station, Washoe County Regional Aviation Enforcement Unit, Nevada National Guard Lakota helicopters and the state Division of Emergency Management.
Nevada Wing Commander Col. Tim Hahn said Maj. Justin Ogden and Col. Brian Ready, CAP’s cell phone forensics experts, played a critical role in helping rescuers narrow the search area.
“The cell phone forensics team pinpointed where they could not possibly be and their efforts were very time-consuming. This morning they provided a key clue that redirected the search and led to the rescue.”
A searcher on the ground spotted the missing family’s silver 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee with binoculars and called the sighting into the command post, leading a CAP plane and ground searchers to the area, Hahn said. A ground team then retrieved the six – a 34-year-old man, a 25-year-old woman and four children ages 10, 4, 4 and 3.
The couple and the children had never returned after driving into the Seven Troughs area about noon Sunday to play in the snow. Overnight temperatures fell as low as 20 below zero.
For its role in the coordinated search, Hahn said he has been told the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center will award the Nevada Wing with six saves.
The CAP members’ role in the search began Monday with the AFRCC’s authorization at the request of the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office. The first day, Hahn said, two Nevada Wing planes and 14 CAP members participated, contributing 80 man-hours and “constant coverage ... of a relatively small search area.”
Two more CAP planes joined the mission Tuesday, when six CAP planes participated in the search.
Ogden was quick to credit Commnet Wireless – a rural cellular provider covering remote areas where cell sites are often not easy to justify based on low population and little traffic – as a major contributor to the forensics team’s success.
After he asked the company’s CEO, Lou Tomasetti, for additional assistance Tuesday morning, “The Commnet network team reacted quickly and provided us with great support directly from their engineers and technicians,” Ogden said.
“Sometimes it’s difficult for us to work with the local carriers, just because it’s tough to find the right contacts. Fortunately, we worked with Commnet in the past and that helped open the door to great support and direct access to the data,” he said. “Their contribution was instrumental in allowing us to narrow the search area.”
Speaking after the rescue, Hahn said, “I cannot tell you what it is like to be the commander of this wing and to work with the people throughout CAP.
"To be part of bringing them home safe is an honor to be relished.”
Civil Air Patrol's vital role in the Nevada rescue is revealed to the more than 5 million viewers of "Good Morning America" in this report from David Wright of ABC News. Maj. Justin Ogden can be heard discussing cell phone forensics and its role in the rescue in interviews with CNN Anderson Cooper 360 and WTAJ-TV, the CBS affiliate in Altoona, Pa., near where he grew up and joined CAP as a cadet 20½ years ago. In addition, articles published in the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal and on the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association AOPA website take a more in-depth look at CAP's cell phone forensics team.