Air Force uses cell phone to help locate downed helo


Pocono Record Photo | DAVID KIDWELL

The Air Force and Civil Air Patrol helped police find a helicopter that crashed in Pennsylvania by using one of the passenger’s cellphones to get a fixed position.

“All cell phones after 2007 have a built-in GPS in them,” said Danny Conley, chief of the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. “If you’re driving down the road and you use your iPhone for mapping, your GPS is working. Now I have a cellphone where I don’t have mapping capability but it has a built-in GPS chip in it so if the cellphone company ever needs to find me, they can find my phone whether I have a GPS capability or not.”

The Morning Call in Allentown first reported on Wednesday that the Air Force helped direct rescuers to the downed helicopter in Monroe County. Two people onboard were killed but one survived and was listed in critical condition.

Before the crash, one of the passengers had texted his wife to say that the helicopter was diverting from its flight path due to bad weather and that allowed the Civil Air Patrol to “ping” the passenger’s cellphone in order to figure out where it was in relation to the nearest cellphone tower at the time of the text, Conley said.

“There’s a U.S. code that allows us for lifesaving operations to gather cellphone data,” Conley said. “What happens is we send that data over to an individual at the Civil Air Patrol whose name is Justin Ogden and he has a program where he loads the information about the cell tower, the time that the ping came in and what he does is he uses that information to triangulate off that cell tower.”

The Air Force combined that data with radar information to give rescuers an idea of where to search, he said.


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