ARTICLE BY- Capt. Kale LeBlanc, CAP

Houston, TX – The evening of September 18th, 2014 started out like any other. Members of the Thunderbird Composite Squadron were traveling home after spending a day at work or school. However, things would get interesting soon, as the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center tapped West Houston area squadrons to prosecute an electronic Emergency Location Transmitter signal sounding in the suburban area of town.

Cadet 1st Lt Kyler Hearn and Captain Kale LeBlanc, along with a member from Delta Composite Squadron put to the streets in the SWR-TX-179 CAP van and dispatched to the approximate location from which satellites had received the signal for several hours. Immediately upon arriving in the area, the Urban Direction Finding (UDF) team picked up the signal. The team began their search in an industrial park located off state highway 529.

Folks who have been in an industrial park before understand that the landscape is typically dominated by large metal buildings. While this might seem simple enough, most people don’t realize that metal buildings and large electrical lines feeding industrial complexes are a nightmare for searchers using electronic locating equipment. For the signal are often blocked or reflected by the buildings and even transmitted and redirected by the overhead power lines. However, this fact didn’t dissuade the search team, and they dutifully began prosecuting the signal.

After four hours of searching a two square mile area into the early hours of the morning, the search team had narrowed down the suspected location to three businesses located adjacent to the industrial complex where the search began. The business’s had already closed for the evening. Therefore the searchers notified AFRCC and the mission commander that locating the beacon would have to be postponed. It would have to wait until morning to continue the hunt.

The next morning, conditions for the search turned bad as the Houston area’s constantly changing weather switched from clear skies to drenching rain. However, even though the search was delayed half a day, eventually the search was resumed by Cadet Hearn and Captain LeBlanc, in their trusty squadron van. Little did they know, the conditions challenging their hunt for the ELT were about to get even more difficult.

Upon arriving back in the target area visited the previous night, a strong signal was once again received. Searchers were relieved that the batteries in the transmitter were still operable and quickly broke out the gear to answer the questions that had eluded them from last night; where the heck is this thing?

Within 30 minutes of re-tracing their steps in the industrial area, Cadet Hearn and Capt. LeBlanc were confident that one business held the object of their search. That business had the strongest signal detected by the search gear, and it even had a boat parked in the back. Boats often carry ELTs, and therefore are a likely source of the signal. Confident they had found their target, the team announced themselves to the business owners, and told them what they were searching for. As it turns out, the business did have an idea of what could have happened. The owners had a much bigger boat in the port of Galveston, and had recently changed out the EPIRB (boat version of an ELT) that they were told was faulty by their maintenance shop. The only catch was, it had been thrown away in a thirty yard dumpster of industrial garbage… over a week ago. It now lied somewhere in the dumpster, which of course was now full of refuse.

Not daunted by the task, Hearn and LeBlanc lead the unloading of the dumpster, which clearly emitted an emergency signal despite the fact that it was never being intended for flying or floating with happy travelers. After about thirty minutes of slogging through the waste materials, wet from the day’s rain, the team was rewarded when the pulsing visual light of en EPIRB beacon was seen in a puddle in the dead bottom of the dumpster. Clearly, the owner of the EPIRB had been led astray by his mechanics. Hearn and LeBlanc were able to retrieve a perfectly functioning one picked from the bottom of the dumpster.

A long two days effort was rewarded by smelly clothes, lots of sweat, and one soggy EPIRB beacon. However, it was a trophy to take home for a demonstration of skills learned and put to use by CAP members who don’t quit when the job gets dirty.

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TX-179 Thunderbird Composite Squadron, Civil Air Patrol

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