DEER TRAIL, Colo. (CBS4) — A hands-on training exercise set in motion Saturday morning has gone very well.
Too well, almost.
A data-gathering balloon launched from the grassy fields at Deer Creek Elementary School gracefully sailed off into the wild, blue yonder as planned.
The balloon was designed to rise to an altitude of 130,000 feet. There, it was supposed to burst. The deflated balloon and its equipment would then descend via parachute to the Earth’s surface and, eventually, into the hands of a precisely positioned recovery team.
Problem is, that has not occurred.
“This was being treated as if it was a actual search and recovery incident,” said Maj. Norm Teltow, commander of the Mile High Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol.
The team lost contact with the balloon about midnight Saturday, according to Maj. Teltow, The “package,” as its called. encountered temperatures of -54° before shutting down.
The balloon, too, is thought to have partially ruptured rather than completely burst, thus extended its flight and exposure to high-altitude winds.
It drifted, the team believes, and may have landed sometime around 2 a.m. approximately 50 kilometers east-southeast of Grand Junction.
The three recovery teams that had been positioned in the Colorado foothills Saturday evening gave up at nightfall and returned home.
Now it’s a waiting game.
“It’s a success already,” Maj. Teltow said. “It’s a much greater success if we can find the equipment and all the data inside.”
Saturday’s was a training exercise that involved two dozen members of the Mile High Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, both adults and the 12- to 17-year-old cadets. The cadets built much of the equipment, which includes a camera and GPS Transmitter with altitude recording instruments, themselves.
Between construction, testing, launch, and tracking, the cadets learn tools that are vital in the search for downed aircraft. In particular, they learn how to extrapolate the breadth of a search area based on information like that gained during this weekend’s exercise.
Residents of a state like Colorado know the value of well-trained search and rescue personnel.
A program like this is where they start.
“It’s important to us because it verifies the models that we generated for this exercise,” Maj. Teltow said of the equipment. “We would love to retrieve this. I will put up $100 personally.”
The balloon, its red recovery parachute, and the six-pack-sized styrofoam cooler of equipment measure 18 feet in length.
If found, contact Maj. Teltow at 303 907-5385.
But you might play along and not tell him exactly where it is.
The 58,000-member Civil Air Patrol is a civilian auxiliary arm of the United States Air Force, like the Air National Guard but comprised of volunteers. It boasts one of the largest fleets of single-engine piston aircraft in the world (currently 560 planes), and assists in search and rescue missions across the nation.
Last year, CAP pilots flew more than 100,000 hours in search and rescue missions (for the second straight year) and credit themselves with assisting in saving 110 lives in that time.