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173rd FW joins forces with Klamath Search and Rescue Team in simulated exercise

Mannequin in woods

A mannequin simulates the difficulty of finding a lost pilot in the woods following an ejection, on June 5, 2021, near Gerber Reservoir, Ore. This picture was only taken from about fifty feet away and without obstruction, demonstrating the difficulty of spotting a pilot. The 173rd FW held a joint exercise with the Klamath County SAR team to practice finding a downed pilot in the woods after a simulated mid-air collision. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Adam Smith)

Side-by-side vehicle drives down road

Members of the Klamath County Search and Rescue drive a side-by-side to locate a simulated missing pilot, on June 5, 2021, near Gerber Reservoir, Ore. The 173rd Fighter Wing held a joint exercise with the Klamath County SAR team to practice finding a downed pilot in the woods after a simulated mid-air collision. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Adam Smith)

Man with a beard gives circle of men the business

Dale Morrow, Klamath County Search and Rescue, and his team discuss the parameters of a simulated search and rescue exercise on June 5, 2021, near Gerber Reservoir, Ore. The 173rd Fighter Wing held a joint exercise with the Klamath County SAR team to practice finding a downed pilot in the woods after a simulated mid-air collision. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Adam Smith)

Men watch tool

Members of the Klamath County Search and Rescue use a radio direction finder to locate an emergency location transmitter attached to an ejection seat, on June 5, 2021, near Gerber Reservoir, Ore. The 173rd Fighter Wing held a joint exercise with the Klamath County SAR team to practice finding a downed pilot in the woods after a simulated mid-air collision. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Adam Smith)

Men talk to pilot

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col Ryan Bocchi, 173rd Fighter Wing inspector general, discusses the parameters of a simulated search and rescue exercise with Dale Morrow, Klamath County Search and Rescue, and his team, on June 5, 2021, near Gerber Reservoir, Ore. The 173rd FW held a joint exercise with the Klamath County SAR team to practice finding a downed pilot in the woods after a simulated mid-air collision. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Adam Smith)

Mannequin in woods

A mannequin simulates the difficulty of finding a lost pilot in the woods following an ejection, on June 5, 2021, near Gerber Reservoir, Ore. This picture was only taken from about fifty feet away and without obstruction, demonstrating the difficulty of spotting a pilot. The 173rd FW held a joint exercise with the Klamath County SAR team to practice finding a downed pilot in the woods after a simulated mid-air collision. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Adam Smith)

GERBER LAKE, Ore. --

In a quiet corner of an Eastern Oregon forest, a team of volunteers in bright yellow shirts emblazoned with “Search and Rescue” combed the rocky hills in search of a mannequin in an old camouflage uniform. On June 5, 2021, the Klamath County Search and Rescue Team received a phone call from the 173rd Fighter Wing that a simulated mid-air collision had occurred, and two pilots were “missing” in the woods near Gerber Lake.

 

After convening at Kingsley Field, they drove to Gerber Lake and began their search. After they quickly found the first pilot, a mannequin labelled deceased with “obvious traumatic head injuries”. The search quickly pivoted to find the second pilot, played by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kevin Welch, who simulated a pilot wandering aimlessly in the forest.

 

At Kingsley Field, Airmen worked with the Klamath County Sheriff’s office to coordinate the search and rescue efforts, interact with simulated media inquiries, and brief the commander on the evolving situation.

 

Lt. Col. Ryan Bocchi, 173rd FW inspector general, assisted the exercise as an advisor and subject matter expert for the Klamath County SAR team. He went out to the incident site and worked with the volunteers to help them understand the equipment that a downed pilot would have on their person, what condition they may be in, and how far they could be from the site of the crashed plane.

 

Bocchi is also an F-15 instructor pilot for the 173rd Fighter Wing.

 

Bocchi described the rocky ground that the pilots trained over, saying “when you fly, you don’t realize how rough the terrain is, but as soon as you get to the ground it’s a different story.”

 

He described how there are incidents of pilots being dragged across the ground and “the probability of injury is high and that can compound the recovery effort.”

 

An injury can significantly compress the amount of time that a pilot is able to survive and remain viable for rescue.

 

In December 2019, a USMC F/A-18 Naval Aviator died after spending nearly ten hours in the ocean waiting for rescue following a midair collision. Rescuers arrived only an hour after he passed.

 

In July 2015, a midair collision between a civilian Cessna 150 and a Shaw AFB F-16 forced a pilot to eject over South Carolina, and a SAR team was called to search for and recover the pilot, who survived.

 

Kingsley Field is not unique in reaching out to local community resources to assist in search and rescue efforts. “This exercise is regulation driven,” said Bocchi.  “AFI 10-2501 specifically outlines that these accident-driven responses incorporate our community partners.”

 

“I was impressed by the number of volunteers and equipment that responded to the exercise,” said Bocchi, adding that he was particularly impressed by the utilization of drone technology to rapidly search and clear large areas, enabling the final pilot to be found rapidly.

 

Dale Morrow, SAR team leader, is local business owner who moonlights as a volunteer for the Klamath County SAR team.

 

“We plug in coordinates, assign teams, and go find the missing person.” Morrow described how the rescue efforts take advantage of local infrastructure, but that it isn’t always an option.

 

“If we’re pretty close to the road then obviously we’ll drive, but if we have to go through the trees then we go through the trees.”

 

For this exercise, Morrow was a part of a team of eleven deputies and three sheriff deputies, and they brought side-by-sides, ATVs, radio direction-finders, and other specialized equipment.

 

“I was impressed by the number of volunteers and equipment that responded to the exercise,” said Bocchi, adding that he was particularly impressed by the utilization of drone technology to rapidly search and clear large areas, enabling the final pilot to be found rapidly.

 

Bocchi gave a glowing review of the local response at the end of the exercise, saying that the exercise was valuable to determine a realistic response time and flex the muscles to ensure a cohesive response if a pilot were ever to need to be found for real.

 

“This was great for interoperability,” he added, describing the joint effort between the base and the surrounding community, “this makes coordination easier and more effective.”