Lost in America
Airplanes that go missing are often untraceable. Why is effective tracking technology being ignored?
- By Michael Behar
- Air & Space magazine, November 2011
USCG/LT. Jon Bartel
(Page 4 of 4)
“The passenger noted that while boarding the airplane in McGrath, he happened to notice a SPOT satellite personal tracker clipped to the pilot’s sun visor. He said that after the accident, he was able to find the SPOT device in the wreckage, and began pushing the emergency SOS button.…About 2030 family members in Wasilla, Alaska, the pilot’s hometown, received an emergency SOS message from the pilot’s SPOT device. A family member then immediately called the operator in Aniak to alert them of the distress message.”
The author of this report, NTSB senior air safety investigator Clint Johnson, says that the Cessna was carrying a functioning 121.5 ELT. However, it could only lead Alaska Air National Guard pilots to within five miles of the aircraft, and cloud cover prevented the rescuers from finding the site that day. The next morning, an HH-60G helicopter from the Air National Guard’s 210th Air Rescue Squadron located the crash site, landed, and evacuated everyone. The breadcrumb tracker’s GPS data took rescuers “right to the doorstep of the accident,” says Johnson.
The same week, Johnson was assigned to five other aviation accidents. “Out of those,” he says, “more than half involved SPOTs—that’s how they found them.”
“We have a situation,” says NTSB survival factors investigator Jason Fedok, “where you have the most technologically advanced country in the world that is basically allowing a large segment of the pilot population to fly unprotected by any sort of real technology. It’s patently ridiculous.”
Based in Boulder, Colorado, Michael Behar (michaelbehar.com) writes about aerospace, adventure travel, science, and the environment. A frequent contributor, his last feature, “Cold Case,” appeared in August 2010.