Radar analysis by the Civil Air Patrol quickly led rescuers to a Colorado couple’s downed Cirrus SR22 after an aerial reconnaissance crew spotted the two amid two-to-four-foot-tall snow drifts in the state's rugged Flat Tops Wilderness Area Jan. 8. The couple was “dangerously close to sliding off a cliff,” according to a television report broadcast by KUSA’s Anusha Roy.
The Civil Air Patrol said less than two hours had passed between the initial distress call and treatment in a Meeker, Colorado, hospital. The Colorado Springs couple were rescued from the remote area by helicopter.
The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center assigned the search-and-rescue mission to the Civil Air Patrol’s Colorado Wing, which tracked the couple’s flight path and dispatched a flyover, said Lt. Col. Mark Young, the Colorado Wing’s mission commander. The Cirrus's airspeed, route of flight, and current weather conditions helped pinpoint a likely crash site.
The National Radar Analysis Team then emailed a Google Earth radar track of the aircraft's flight path “so everyone had a copy and could see three-dimensionally the path the aircraft took and what the terrain was like,” Young said.
Young said the group was able to “nail down the crashed plane's location within five to 10 minutes” of receiving the call and less than two hours later the couple was in the hospital. He attributed the speedy response to effective planning, including "an awesome team effort" by the radar experts, and thorough communication between local, state, regional, and national authorities.
The radar track “was of tremendous value to the first responders,” Young added, and the quick response limited the stranded couple’s exposure to temperatures of minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit as they awaited rescue.
“The closer we can get, the quicker we can get search-and-rescue helicopters to the area,” the National Radar Analysis Team’s Lt. Col. John Henderson told KUSA from his base in Washington state. “The goal is to really cut down on the time from crash to rescue.”