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Civil Air Patrol radar analyst helps search for missing jet

Mar. 14, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Search Continues For Missing Malaysian Airliner Ca
GULF OF THAILAND - MARCH 9: In this handout provided by the U.S. Navy, a U.S. Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 78, Det 2, assigned to the guided-missile Destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91), lands aboard Pinckney during a crew swap before returning on task in the search and rescue for the missing Malaysian airlines flight MH370 on March 9, 2013 at sea in the Gulf of Thailand. The flight had 227 passengers from 14 nations, mainly China, and 12 crew members. According to the Malaysia Airlines website, three Americans, including one infant, were also aboard. (Photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Chris D. Boardman/U.S. Navy via Getty Images) (U.S. Navy / Getty Images)
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A radar analyst for the Air Force’s 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is supporting the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the Civil Air Patrol said.

Lt. Col. John Henderson, vice commander of the air patrol’s 10-member National Radar Analysis Team, is using the airline’s radar forensics information to help narrow the search area for the Boeing 777 that vanished without a trace on a March 8 flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.

“We have a lot of experience using different types of radar data, and our software tools are designed to use a lot of different formats of radar data,” Henderson said in a news release. “The goal is to utilize the radar data and radar signatures from the aircraft to determine its ultimate flight path.”

Flight 370 last made contact with air traffic controllers while over the South China Sea less than an hour after takeoff, according to news reports, and search and rescue efforts began in the surrounding area after the plane failed to arrive at its destination.

Evidence has since surfaced that the plane may have veered hundreds of miles off-course in the opposite direction — and traveled for at least four hours after that final contact. A U.S. official told The Associated Press that Flight 370 continued to send signals to a satellite for some four hours after the last radar contact.

No trace of the plane or the 239 people onboard has been found.

“Between the 84th [Radar Evaluation Squadron] and Civil Air Patrol, we have a very robust capability to reduce radar data into usable and actionable forms, to include stitching together tracks from multiple radar systems,” Lt. Col. Ian Kemp, commander of the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, said in the news release.

Radar analysis “can be extremely accurate,” Henderson was quoted as saying. “Over 90 percent of the time, we [the Civil Air Patrol team] narrow the search area based on forensics information. We’ve come within 65 feet of where a crash occurred and sometimes miles. It depends on the radar environment.”

Civil Air Patrol is working around the clock to help narrow the search area, the release said. The search has been expanded toward the Indian Ocean.

Henderson has participated in more than 600 radar analysis missions, the news release said. Those efforts led to 150 “finds” and 45 lives saved. In 2007, he helped narrow the search for an Indonesian Boeing 737 that disappeared with six crew members and 96 passengers, directing searchers to within a mile of the crash site, the release said. The plane was found in 6,500 feet of water in the Makassar Strait.

“Searchers were having a hard time picking up the black box pings, and the more time that goes by, the weaker it becomes,” Henderson said in the release. “My analysis got ships in a very close position so they could pick up the pings.”

“The black box is really key to knowing what happened, besides finding the wreckage,” he said.

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