By Lt Col Robert Ditch
During the evening of 21 November 2011 multiple airliners arriving and departing across the Phoenix Metropolitan area began reporting an Emergency Locator Transmission (ELT); indicating a possible aircraft in distress or crash. At the time of the initial reports it was unknown if a pilot was having an emergency or if an aircraft/ELT had been accidently bumped/disrupted while in maintenance. Ten of the aircraft reported the signal to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic controllers who immediately notified the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Upon receipt of the information the AFRCC contacted the Arizona Wing of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) who sent out an immediate notification, via the State of Arizona Division of Emergency Management - Communicator Notification/Alert System, to all CAP units across the state. Within two minutes of receiving the alert the Glendale CAP Squadron had their radio receivers turned on and were reporting that the signal was originating from Glendale Airport. Without hesitation the CAP Squadron mobilized a Urban Direction Finding (UDF) team and was able to quickly isolate the signal to an aircraft located in a maintenance hangar at the airport. The owner was called and promptly secured the ELT.
The record response by the Glendale CAP Squadron demonstrated once again how quickly technology and the spirit of volunteerism can come together to mitigate a potential aircraft emergency. First the squadron was able to quickly let the State of Arizona and U.S. Air Force rescue officials know that there was no emergency so that other rescue resources could stand-down. Second by immediately securing/turning off the device they reopened the FAA emergency notification radio frequency so that if another actual emergency took place the real emergency ELT would not be confused by the false alarm one that had already been discovered. All too often many response and administrative agencies are willing to allow such emergency signals to continue to go off until the next day, or later, and thus prevent actual emergencies from being reported reliably. Fortunately this is not the case for the Glendale Squadron or the rest of the Arizona Wing of professionals who respond almost every week to ELT signals, actual overdue/missing aircraft or lost hikers/campers and other missing persons emergencies. The response record set by the Glendale Squadron is one that is unprecedented. From the time of notification to isolation of the ELT was only over a period of minutes--A peerless response by the Glendale CAP volunteers and Glendale airport officials.