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Mich. pilot aids search for missing childMich. pilot aids search for missing child

When Joseph Rivard drove out to the airport on a bright Saturday morning, he intended to take a short pleasure flight. He had no idea he’d be asked to help on a hunt for a missing child.

Rivard owns a 1965 Piper Cherokee that he keeps at Mount Pleasant Municipal Airport (KMOP) in Mount Pleasant, Mich. On Sept. 12, he headed to the airport after waiting for early fog to burn off. “There is nothing better than starting a day with an early morning flight in the brisk September air of a Michigan fall,” said Rivard, who is a professor at Central Michigan University.

As he drove onto the airport, he noticed that the security gates were open. He knew that meant one of two things: Either snow and ice had caused the gates to malfunction—unlikely in September—or an emergency was in progress.

Driving toward his hangar, Rivard noticed several emergency vehicles, Red Cross operatives, and law enforcement representatives in the distance. Figuring it was a practice scenario of some sort, Rivard preflighted the Cherokee and started the aircraft. As he taxied toward Runway 9, the airport manager called him on the common traffic advisory frequency. Was he up for a joy ride, or did he need to be somewhere today? Rivard soon learned that a child abduction alert bulletin had been issued for an 11-year-old boy. The local state police helicopter had been called away on another emergency. Would Rivard be available to take up a law enforcement passenger and conduct an aerial reconnaissance?

Although he had never participated in search-and rescue-operations, Rivard didn’t hesitate. He taxied back to the terminal area, where the search-and-rescue team had set up a temporary command center. State police showed him county maps of the local area and pinpointed two grids of swampy and wooded terrain along a major highway. With a police officer as right-seat spotter, Rivard flew the grids at about 800 feet agl, keenly aware that this type of low-level maneuvering can be harmful if you’re not careful. “There were times I needed to remain in a holding pattern while command center plotted additional targets,” he recalled. Turns around a point became critical and frequently used, rotating both sides of the circle so that both the police officer and the pilot had opportunities to scan the terrain.

By the time the land and aerial searches were concluded, police determined that the child was not lost but had been taken by car and transported across state lines by someone in the neighborhood. “The FBI caught up with them in Ohio, and the boy was returned to his family,” Rivard said.

Rivard is not sure whether he’ll get another chance to respond to the directive, “Air Search 2, this is command center.” But, he said, given the opportunity, he’d help out again. Donating a few hours of his time and several gallons of avgas to help locate a missing child was “very cool,” he said.

“Flying can be especially rewarding when others benefit from our resources,” Rivard sayid. “New adventures can sneak up on you when you least expect them.”

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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