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Air, ground teamwork speeded pilot's rescue

After what can only be described as a wild night out, Medford resident Larry Kendrick stumbled into bed at around 10 a.m. Saturday.

But he couldn't have felt any better about his nocturnal adventure.

"It gives us a real good feeling when we get them out alive," said Kendrick, 65, a pilot with the local Civil Air Patrol.

"We had great teamwork — it was an outstanding effort," he added. "We were able to communicate with everyone. It went very well."

Kendrick and dozens of other emergency responders headed for the high Cascades late Friday after an 11:30 p.m. alert was issued by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue Division about a plane that was reported down in the mountains somewhere between Fish Mountain and Prospect.

Search-and-rescue units were alerted after air traffic controllers were contacted by the pilot of a 1956 Cessna 182 who reported his airplane had crashed.

The pilot had reported via a satellite telephone he had crashed "at the bottom of a deep ravine" in the mountainous area, according to a report by the Jackson County Sheriff's Lt. Pat Rowland. The plane had apparently run out of fuel.

Although the pilot reported he was injured, the extent of his injuries and the exact crash location were unknown, Rowland noted. No emergency locator beacon signal was activated, he added.

In addition to Jackson County's search-and-rescue unit and the CAP, search-and-rescue units from Douglas and Klamath counties as well as the Oregon Air National Guard joined in the effort.

All are members of the California/Oregon Regional Search and Rescue (CORSAR) which was organized after the death of James Kim last November. The Kim family, of San Francisco, became lost and stranded while trying to drive to the coast on snowy backcountry roads. James Kim died of exposure but his wife, Kati, and two daughters were rescued.

The CORSAR task force, which Rowland chairs, is intended to improve communications and efficiency among organizations involved in searchers.

Search organizers immediately determined that both a joint command and separate searches would be necessary along with support from the CAP, Rowland reported.

Using contacts made during the Kim incident, Jackson County sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan and dispatchers of Southern Oregon Regional Communications began tracing satellite phone signals using the satellite provider, according to Rowland. They soon located a possible set of coordinates which they gave to the CAP units already in the air, he added.

Using those coordinates, the CAP aircraft saw a flashing light below around 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

"When the find was made, we were flying high bird (above other CAP aircraft) when we spotted the flashlight beaming up from the ground," Kendrick said. "The guy also set a flare off. We were flying directly over that."

At about the same time the pilot called on his satellite phone to report an airplane flying overhead, Rowland observed.

The CAP aircraft continued circling the area while search-and-rescue units from Jackson and Douglas counties sent in a ground team on snow machines.

The crash occurred in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness Area in southeastern Douglas County just two miles north of Fish Lake.

"We monitored it all night," Kendrick said of listening to radio traffic on the ground searchers' progress in battling steep, rugged terrain and deep snow. "They were just about there when the Guard was able to get a helicopter in there."

The National Guard helicopter lifted pilot Marshall Alexander, 56, of Klamath Falls, up out of the site about 8 a.m. Alexander suffered bruises to his chest, had a swollen ankle and was cold, but not seriously hurt, Rowland reported.

Attempts by the Mail Tribune to reach Alexander at his home in Klamath Falls on Monday were unsuccessful.

Kendrick said the search was extremely successful.

"We found the airplane and the Guard made the extraction, but the search and rescue were the unsung heroes," he said of crews on the ground in the deep snow. "They had to turn around and go back through all of that."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

The wreckage of Marshall Alexander’s plane rests in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness Area.