Civilian airmen used differently in Oklahoma
by Kelly P. Kissel, Associated Press
May 27, 2013 02:10 PM | 919 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In this Wednesday, May 22, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller airmen help a resident in Moore, Okla., search through the debris looking for salvageable items. On Monday, a tornado leveled homes, crushed vehicles, and killed more than 20 people in the area. More than 115 Oklahoma National Guard personnel have been activated to assist in the rescue and relief efforts. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)
In this Wednesday, May 22, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller airmen help a resident in Moore, Okla., search through the debris looking for salvageable items. On Monday, a tornado leveled homes, crushed vehicles, and killed more than 20 people in the area. More than 115 Oklahoma National Guard personnel have been activated to assist in the rescue and relief efforts. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)
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In this Wednesday, May 22, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ben Lake, Joint Terminal Attack Controller, 138th Combat Training Flight, passes a family photo to Elise Hopkins while searching through the debris looking for salvageable items in what is left of her home, in Moore, Okla. On Monday, a tornado leveled homes, crushed vehicles, and killed more than 20 people in the area. More than 115 Oklahoma National Guard personnel have been activated to assist in the rescue and relief efforts. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)
In this Wednesday, May 22, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ben Lake, Joint Terminal Attack Controller, 138th Combat Training Flight, passes a family photo to Elise Hopkins while searching through the debris looking for salvageable items in what is left of her home, in Moore, Okla. On Monday, a tornado leveled homes, crushed vehicles, and killed more than 20 people in the area. More than 115 Oklahoma National Guard personnel have been activated to assist in the rescue and relief efforts. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)
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MOORE, Okla. (AP) — The Civil Air Patrol normally aids in searches for lost and missing planes, but given Oklahoma's unpredictable weather, the local agency is often pressed into disaster response.

After the two tornadoes that killed a total of 26 Oklahoma residents last week, the U.S. Air Force auxiliary has been asked to document damage at up to 14,000 pieces of property hit by a May 20 storm.

"We do more disaster relief than we do search and rescue," said Capt. Rick Rutledge.

From the sky, air patrol volunteers can often spot a piece of damage that government agencies or relief workers might not know exists. They also can share information from storm tracks, letting forecasters obtain information from areas inaccessible from the ground.

"They can look at the photos and say, 'That was a tornado' or 'Those were straight-line winds," Rutledge said.

Before each flight, typically in a small plane, the volunteers are given a list of things to accomplish — see where a tornado finally lifted or measure the storm's width, for example. The same rules apply when they fly after wildfires, especially when flames stretch beyond the nearest road.

Last year, the local CAP had five search and rescue missions in Oklahoma, but 17 missions for state emergency officials and others.

Oklahoma's transportation secretary, Gary Ridley, said aerial photographs of damage are especially helpful.

"We can see before and after and we can make assessments of where help is needed," said Ridley, who traveled Monday to the severely damaged area near the Plaza Towers Elementary School to thank 400 state transportation workers hauling debris away. "FEMA can use them to make decisions on debris removal."

Volunteers can come from any walk of life, but for a Sunday mission to trace damage from Newcastle to Moore, the pilot was CAP Lt. Col. Aaron Oliver, a U.S. Air Force captain whose day job is with the USAF Flight Standards Agency.

After an hourlong flight through high winds and low clouds, he put the tiny Cessna 182 back on the runway with a bump smoother than a drive on a gravel road. He shrugged off a compliment.



Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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