Search pilot: ELT usually works

Civil Air Patrol pilot Russell Johnson flew more than six hours Wednesday, one of many pilots who volunteered time in the search for pilot Steve Fossett missing since Monday.

"Usually, the ELT (emergency locator transmitter) will tip us off to the location of a plane," he said. "But not in this case."

An Air Force pilot for 23 years, Johnson started flying with the CAP after retirement in 1982. In addition to performing these types of searches, the all-volunteer senior pilot group works with local ski patrols, counter-drug missions and disasters.

"This has been a lot of work," Johnson said. "I'm up at 4:30 and not home until sometimes 6 or 7 p.m. I get a day off tomorrow, then fly the next.

"But I get a lot of satisfaction helping people in distress and I like to fly," he said.

Just 11 planes, Cessna 206s and 182s, are maintained in Nevada by the U.S. Air Force for the organization, but when necessary some CAP members use their own planes in searches, Russell said.

"A lot of the older members in the Senior organization are retired airline and military pilots," he said.

One of the bigger programs with the CAP is the cadet program and Johnson said he enjoys working with them.

"We take them on plane and glider rides," he said. "A lot of them become pilots and several go to the Air Force and Naval academies."

An auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, the CAP is a nonprofit with 64,000 members nationwide, includes 27,000 cadets aged 12 to 21. They control 535 planes, the world's largest fleet of piston aircraft, in eight geographic regions.

First organized under the Office of Civilian Defense, Civil Air Patrol members became the "Minutemen" of World War II, volunteering their time, resources, and talents to defend the nation's borders and fill the gaps as men and resources were being mobilized to fight abroad.

• Susie Vasquez can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 211.


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