Civil Air Patrol Pt. 1
The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) began as a force of citizen airmen during World War II and is now a public service organization focused on emergency services, aerospace education and building tomorrow’s leaders.
NewsCenter’s Andrew Shipotofsky delivers a three-part series on South Dakota’s CAP program. Part one focuses on their emergency services. Watch the entire series here.
Perhaps best known for its search and rescue efforts, the Civil Air Patrol flies more than 85 percent of all federal inland searches. On a yearly average, CAP members save 75 to 100 people nationwide.
In South Dakota, the Civil Air Patrol is constantly training for rescue missions. Two teams conduct a search – one on the ground and one in the air.
On foot, members have two main tactics.
"The first [tactic] is a hasty search,” said Bradley Blansett, a senior member with the Rushmore Composite Squadron. “That’s where we have all of the members search an area. Everyone just kind of wanders around and searches the area very thorough. And the other [tactic] is a line search, where we can cover large areas very methodically and quickly."
Once members find the missing plane or person, they keep the area secure until authorities arrive.
"We kind of cordon off the area so nobody goes in and messes up what’s going on in there,” said 1st. Lt. Samuel Huntington, the assistant director of operations for the South Dakota CAP Wing. “[We] assess the situation and see if there is any dangers. If there aren’t dangers, go if somebody is in there in need of medical assistance. We do what we can. And then primarily focused on making sure no one goes in there and messes up what could be telling a story to somebody later as far as what happened."
In the case of downed aircraft, the Civil Air Patrol will use directional finding from an emergency transmitter on the plane. Having an airborne team greatly extends how far the transmitter’s signal can be received and helps the ground team narrow their search area, according to Cadet Capt. Jared Doyle.
While most of the pilots are adults and senior members, teenage cadets can still participate in air searches as observers and eventually serve as a mission pilot.
"If you get enough hours up, you can actually go and be a mission pilot, and that’s a big goal of mine," said Cadet Branden Spence, a chief master sergeant.
South Dakota Wing Commander Col. David Small says cadets take real pride in serving their community.
"There have been crashed airplanes in the winter where it’s 20 below zero wind chill, and I have had nine young people age 12 to 17 who get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to spend all day in subzero weather looking for a downed airplane,” said Small. “Those people have community value, have real service. They have earned their respect of their community. They didn’t get a gold star for showing up. They did real work that can make a difference and help save lives."