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Happy Thanksgiving – Please Stay Safe   Leave a comment

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Thanksgiving is nearly here. If you are like me, that means stuffing yourself with turkey (or some alternative protein) and pie in the company of your family and friends. Most of us go to great lengths to be with family for the day.

This year the National Weather Service is predicting snowstorms across the northeast. They’re warning about eight to ten inches of snow. It reminds me of another Thanksgiving, many years ago.

The Weather Service predicted huge snowstorms across my native Wisconsin that year and Mother Nature delivered. The state was covered in white.

That’s when I got the call that a small airplane was missing. Back then I was part of a Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Land Rescue Team. In most states CAP is the primary organization providing search coordination and teams for civilian aircraft missing on land.

We were told that a young man took off from a neighboring state. Iowa, I think. He knew there was a storm coming but chose to fly back to his home in Wisconsin to be with his fiancée for Thanksgiving. He called her before leaving but never arrived.

I don’t remember if the plane had an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) or not. They were new at that time and far from universal. Unlike modern systems, early ELTs had no satellite connections and were generally found by flying over a crash site listening for their distinctive oscillating tone. I doubt that it mattered much that first day.

The weather was not our friend. Snow continued on and off, limiting search support from the air to the brief periods when the storms abated. Our ground team and the others did their best, following every clue received and searching area after area. There were no cell phones then–no way for him to contact anyone if he survived the crash. His last contact with flight service was near Spring Green, Wisconsin, west of Madison, so that’s were we concentrated our search. We heard that based on his radio capabilities he could be anywhere in the lower half of the state. We heard that he’d diverted to northern Illinois once before due to a problem. Disheartening. We searched all through the long weekend with no result.

The worst was that his fiancée was in our headquarters. She looked hopeful every time she heard we had another lead. We couldn’t tell her that by the end of the weekend we were looking for a body. Nobody could have survived the exposure in that weather.

On Monday the search largely stopped. We were all volunteers with school or jobs requiring our return. The teams returned to the search for the next few weekends, then ended the effort. There was nothing more we could do.

I’m not sure what happened to that young man. We heard that the wreckage was found in northern Illinois the next spring but I never saw confirmation.

This Thanksgiving, as you struggle to reach your families through the storms, remember that young man. Don’t take unnecessary risks to get there. Hold back if you need to. It’s far better to be late for your holiday dinner than to never arrive. There will always be more dinners.

To those who must work during the holiday–the hospital staffs, police, emergency services personnel, members of the military, and everyone else who works to keep us all safe–I say thank you. Your choice of service and your dedication is not unnoticed.

To everyone else– Enjoy your families and a day of parades, football, and stuffing yourself but above all, stay safe.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Posted November 26, 2014 by Leoma Retan in Holidays

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