Emergency airdrop kits may help those lost in wilderness survive
Santa Ana,CA - 23 May, 2008
A Cessna flies low over a grass airstrip west of Estacada, dropping a bright orange satchel with a 25-foot tail attached. It looks like a kite full of rocks hurtling toward the ground.
The packet beeps loudly, making it easy to find in the tall grass alongside the runway. A light blinks so you could see it in the dark. Inside is a radio, food, water, shelter, fire starter, flashlight, a knife and other essentials -- all precious things if you were lost or injured in the wilderness and unprepared to spend the night.
The 304th Rescue Squadron, a U.S. Air Force Reserve unit based at the Portland Air Base, is testing the Small Pack Aerial Rescue Kit for use in Oregon by the end of the year.
The Oregon Sheriffs Association -- sheriffs offices are in charge of search-and-rescue operations in Oregon -- asked the military to look into products on the market that could be dropped to people found by air.
"The idea is to give the Civil Air Patrol the ability to do more than hang over and give moral support" to lost hikers or campers, Capt. Chris Bernard of the 304th said. "Being able to talk to them – the psychological boost that will give them will be huge."
The Civil Air Patrol, a group of volunteer pilots who fly fixed-wing airplanes, helps local sheriffs during search-and-rescue operations. They often spot victims but can do little more than fly overhead and rock their wings.
They can't offer help to someone or even get a basic message that help is on the way. The kits eventually will be placed in planes and sheriffs cars across the state, allowing pilots to communicate with lost people and let them know to stay put until help arrives, which usually takes hours.
The radio also will ensure the rescue is done more efficiently.
For example, if the lost individuals can call searchers and tell them that they aren't injured or are equipped to stay out all night, the proper forces can be marshaled for a morning rescue rather than scrambling searchers in the dark. And they can tell a pilot what kind of shape they are in or if a member of their party needs special care.