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Effects of the federal government shutdown have reached Southwest Florida.

Along with whatever impact on air traffic controllers and TSA security screeners, the ongoing logjam in Washington had a direct impact on another component of aviation over the weekend. The Marco Island and Naples squadrons of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) held a long-scheduled joint exercise for practice and training in dealing with rescues and searches Saturday and Sunday.

As originally conceived, the “Search and Rescue Exercise,” or SAREX, had the local CAP members coordinating with a helicopter coming from the U.S. Forest Service at its Big Cypress base. But funds and personnel for the federal component of the exercise were not available, so the CAP officers went ahead without them, said Marco Island’s CAP Squadron 376 emergency services officer Maj. Bob Corriveau. The CAP crews are all unpaid volunteers, so there is no question of withholding pay that they don’t receive in the first place.

The weather didn’t cooperate 100 percent, either, with high crosswinds on Sunday afternoon, that exceeded the CAP guidelines for safe air operations, grounding the last flights of the SAREX. Nevertheless, said Corriveau, the operation was “an outstanding success,” and accomplished their objectives.

“We flew a total of 15 flight sorties, along with two ground sorties,” said Corriveau. Flown out of the Marco Island Executive Airport, the Marco squadron’s base, flights were carried out by both the Naples squadron’s Cessna 172, and Marco Island’s newer Cessna 182 with updated electronics on board.

The ground sorties, involving sending personnel out to find a simulated downed aircraft somewhere out in the woods after it had been spotted by air crews, were handled by cadets from the Naples cadet squadron. In all, 22 senior CAP members and 13 cadets participated in the SAREX, said Corriveau.

“We have a tarp that mimics a downed aircraft. We put that on the ground along with an ELT, and the flights fly their search patterns and home in on the signal,” said Corriveau. ELT stands for emergency locator transmitter, a radio beacon similar to the EPIRBs used on boats. During the SAREX, the ELT transmits on a separate frequency to avoid anyone thinking it is an actual emergency rather than a drill.

The first aerial mission by the Marco “Black Sheep” squadron was flown with squadron commander Lt. Bob Boone at the controls, although the Naples aircraft, which had flown down from their base at the Naples Airport (formerly Naples Municipal Airport) got off the ground ahead of them. As befits a quasi-military operation, everything must be done “by the book,” with a long list of requirements, briefing, paperwork, checks and doublechecks carried out, and then checked again, before heading out.

Boone flew with a crew of three total. Along with him as pilot, Major Marian Motyl-Szary as observer beside Brown in the front, and Fred Edwards in the rear as airborne photographer. They pulled the Cessna 182 out of its hangar across the field from the CAP headquarters, and performed a series of preflight tests on the tarmac from a laminated checklist.

The temporary hangar space is necessary because the CAP hangar was squashed as if by a giant fist during Hurricane Irma, in a “micro-burst” that left adjacent structures unharmed. The good news, said Boone, is that FEMA has authorized an approximately $430,000 grant – presumably after the government shutdown ends – to cover 75 percent of the replacement cost, currently pegged at $572,096.26, give or take.

Some area old-timers still think of the “Sundown Patrol” when the Civil Air Patrol, but with budget cuts, higher fuel costs, and the prevalence of cell phones, that mission along the coast hasn’t taken place for many years. The squadron gets regular missions from the U.S. Air Force, and flies once or twice a week on average, said Boone.

To contribute to help rebuild the hangar for the Marco Island Civil Air Patrol, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, send a check to PO Box 225, Marco Island, FL 34146. For more information or to consider joining the unit – membership is open – call 239-389-1273, or go online to units.fl376.flwg.us.

 

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