Walco Squadron assisted in search for downed aircraft
ELKHORN Walco Composite Squadron, Civil Air Patrol (CAP), based in Elkhorn, was recently deployed by the Air Forced Rescue Coordination Center to Minnesota’s north shore to assist in the search for a missing pilot and his plane.
Maj. Bob Thomas and Lt. Jon Walsh, both of Elkhorn, led Walco’s team during their four-day deployment. Lt. Amelia Wills and Cadet Jerome Etten, both of Elkhorn, Lt. Joe Geldermann of Lake Geneva, and Cadet Brandon Nance of Delavan also worked on the team.
Michael Bratlie, 67, a retired Navy and Northwest Airline pilot, went missing on June 8, during what was supposed to be a flight from south St. Paul to Duluth and back to break in the engine of his Piper PA-31 Navajo plane. The rugged terrain he was flying in is heavily forested.
The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, in collaboration with the CAP, suspended the 12-day search on June 23. Among those included in the search were aircrews and ground search and rescue teams from Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota Wings, CAP. On any given day there were up to 10 search planes and four ground teams with up to 70 CAP personnel, as well as helicopters from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota State Patrol and boat search teams from St. Louis County Rescue Squad as well as the Cook and Lake counties’ sheriff’s offices. Over 200 square miles were searched.
Hampered by the lack of a distress beacon signal, the CAP concentrated the search along the north shore of Minnesota between Silver Bay and Tofte and Lake Superior, where Bratlie was last detected by radar and cell phone signals. Walco’s Ground Search and Rescue Team was tasked with investigating information provided by the public, interviewing potential witnesses, and searching the area near a small, abandoned airport.
Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with more than 61,000 members nationwide, operating a fleet of 550 aircraft. CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and was credited by the AFRCC with saving 54 lives in fiscal year 2011. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to nearly 27,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet program. CAP received the World Peace Prize in 2011 and has been performing missions for America for 70 years. CAP also participates in Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans.