Dozens of GA pilots have volunteered to help search for Elizabeth Smart, the 14-year-old Utah girl kidnapped from her bedroom.
It began with AOPA member Jamie Gutierrez, a pilot recruiter for Angel Flight, contacting search officials to ask what he could do to help. Within two hours, seven pilots were in the air, working with ground search crews.
"It started with the pilots," said Gutierrez, "but everyone's worked hand-in-hand. Air traffic control has provided priority and separation, using Angel Flight call signs. Air Force controllers from Clover Control at Hill AFB even cleared two 'hot' areas in the Utah Test and Training Range to allow us to search."
Gutierrez says he's received calls from pilots from as far away as Louisiana asking what they could do to help. One caller even offered his company's C-130.
The aerial search has been averaging about 12 aircraft per day. On the busiest day of the search, 25 fixed-wing and two rotary-wing aircraft were involved. Pilots, co-pilots, and spotters have included surgeons, police officers, air traffic controllers, and others from many walks of life. Gutierrez says some pilots have been there four and five days in a row, spending hundreds of dollars a day of their own money.
Said Gutierrez, "We've really come together as a community to do our part for the larger community."