Search and rescue practice in Dubuque - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Search and rescue practice in Dubuque

DUBUQUE (KWWL) -- The Iowa wing of the Civil Air Patrol practiced many missions at a search and rescue exercise Saturday morning.

"All of this is in preparation for an actual event, so that, if a farmer goes missing or a person goes missing or flooding happens again or an airplane goes missing or is having a problem, we'll have the proper experience to locate it as quickly as possible," public information officer Cindi Wachholz said.

As recent history shows, these practices are put to good use.

"Certainly the floods of 2008 was a high-traffic time," Iowa wing director of operations Leo Bertling said. "We flew many missions related to the flooding, and FEMA wanted many photographs."

Aerial photographs help organizations on the ground pinpoint where the worst damage and greatest need is located.

The Civil Air Patrol is the all-volunteer civilian branch of the US Air Force. It has 52 wings: one in each of the 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.

While the Iowa wing has helped with flooding, tornado damage and locating downed planes, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) elsewhere in the country has been helping lately in the Gulf.

"Civil Air Patrol has done a lot of work down with the oil spill in the Gulf lately doing the aerial photo reconnaissance, which has been a huge help in determining, you know, what parts of the land are going to be impacted," Wachholz said.

Not every mission for the CAP is in the air.

"Ground teams can go to homes, find out who's stuck in their house, can't get out," Wachholz said. "We can help with, like, making sure people have water or sandbagging. Stuff like that."

One such practice mission on Saturday involved both air and ground crews.

"It's a simulation of a missing farm hand that's not come home and the family's worried," Bertling said.

To set up the exercise, a La Motte farmer (and CAP member) drove a tractor out into the middle of one of his corn fields and placed a mannequin on the ground next to it.

A CAP plane flew over the fields, spotted the tractor and notified the ground crew of the coordinates.

Those on the ground then walked through the field to successfully find the tractor and practice following proper procedure, as they would were it a real emergency situation.

Bertling said the Iowa wing tries conducting a Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) at least four times per year. Saturday's SAREX was at the Dubuque Regional Airport.

Online Reporter Becca Habegger

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