ARTICLE BY: Capt Karl Falken, CAP

Houston, TX – April 5, 2015 – In December of 2014, Senior Member (SM) Charles E. Gill rejoined his home unit, SWR-TX-179, and brought with him a history of service and accomplishment. SM Gill was a Civil Air Patrol (CAP) pilot and a member of the squadron back in the mid 70’s. TX-179 was part of the Group 13 of the Texas wing at that time. In 1975 the Civil Air Patrol had flown 12,812 sorties totaling about 25,000 hours and was credited with 57 saves.

It was Valentine’s Day in 1976, and it had been several years since the Texas Wing had been credited with a save. Then 1st Lt. C. Eddie Gill and his Mission Observer, 2nd Lt. Dave Harrison, were under squadron commander Maj Danny Edwards and Group Commander Capt. Ed Saad. That evening at 6:50 p.m. Capt. Saad received word of a Red Cap mission. Coordinating with Texas Wing Headquarters by radio, he learned that a Piper Arrow (or Cherokee), N40931, piloted by W.T Rains had departed Dallas about 10 p.m. the night before, en-route to Baytown’s Humphrey Airport. The plane had not landed and was presumed down. Heavy fog was over the entire gulf area and flying conditions were poor.

The fog cleared enough by the next morning that aircrews from Bayou City, Ellington and Delta Composite squadrons were on alert and were ready to take off from their respective airports to meet at the Montgomery County Airport in Conroe. Capt. Saad had established a mission base there at the 22nd group headquarters.   When the aircrews arrived, they were briefed and released on the search and rescue mission. Lt,’s Gill and Harrison took to the air in a CAP owned Cessna 150 at 11:00 that morning. They flew an airport circling mission around Conroe due to the limited range of their aircraft. Ground teams, including a Cadet Ranger Team from the Delta Composite Squadron also joined the search.

It was the second aircraft piloted by Lt. “Eddie” Gill that first spotted the wreckage at 11:20 a.m. The aircrew directed a ground team under 1st Lt. Bruce Elliot, also from SWR-TX-179, to the crash site. They were joined by units from the Montgomery County Highway Patrol which was coordinating their efforts with Civil Air Patrol. It was a Montgomery County Deputy who found pilot Rains sitting by the road. He was badly cut with severe lacerations to his face and neck. He had lost a lot of blood, had a broken shoulder, dislocated hip and crushed ankle. The injured pilot was transported to Montgomery County Hospital where he was treated for his injuries. Lt.’s Gill and Harrison were credited with a “save” by the Aerospace Rescue and Coordination Center (ARRC) as it was known then.

“W. T. Rains had survived 36 hours without medical supplies, warm clothing, food or water,” Capt .Saad wrote in his account of the rescue.

After leaving Dallas, he had run into bad weather south of Huntsville. He was making a low approach to the Conroe airport when his engine quit. In the darkness he tried to land in an open area which proved to be a gravel pit. On his descent the wing of his plane struck a tree and then crash landed in a wooded area. The injured pilot used strips torn from his shirt to bandage the bleeding wounds and then crawled painfully to the roadside where he awaited rescue. A year later he recounted his story for the Civil Air Patrol News. In it he explained that he thought he’d filed a flight plan, but a weak radio failed to transmit it to the Air Traffic Controller that fateful day. With temperatures in the 40’s, he could have perished due to his injuries and hypothermia.

“You just don’t know how it feels to have so many people looking for you,” Rains later told the Civil Air Patrol News.

All told, 23 aircraft of the Texas Wing flew 23 sorties for 38 hours and covered 1755 square miles. The effort mobilized 86 CAP members. Of the six aircraft flown by SWR-TX-179 members, three were owned by the pilots and two were rented by their pilots for the mission.

Though much has changed in forty years, Lt. Gill still flies and plans to pursue his form five and mission pilot rating again. He looks forward to being part of an aircrew and participating in future search and rescue missions. Perhaps he will save another down pilot someday! Certainly he has valuable experience to bring to CAP and teach to the new generation. The torch continues to be passed.

CCI051020151 CCI051020152


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TX-179 Thunderbird Composite Squadron, Civil Air Patrol

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