Civil Air Patrol provides helping hand for those in need

Few people seem to know that the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) even exists, let alone what it does. Kelly Egan was one of those people. Now, he’ll never forget.

Egan, 19, took off for a drive through the desert north of the southeast Idaho town of Minidoka one Sunday afternoon. When he didn’t show up at his parent’s house for dinner the next evening, Max and Edith Egan called county authorities, who began looking for Kelly on Tuesday.

After more than 20 hours, they had failed to turn up anything.

There had been a blizzard and snowstorm Sunday night and the temperature had dropped to zero. The desert was too big to search from the ground, so the county sheriff’s department called the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, which in turn called CAP.

Boise CAP Squadron was paired with a member of the local CAP unit on Wednesday to conduct an aerial search. Two CAP and one Mini-Cassia Search and Rescue planes made aerial scans of the desert for Egan and his van. Forty-five minutes later, CAP found Egan’s van, stuck in the mud about 25 miles northeast of Minidoka.

They radioed the sheriff, who sent a 4x4 ATV out to complete the rescue portion of the mission.

The Civil Air Patrol is a federally funded, nonprofit auxiliary of the Air Force that requires no military obligation. CAP is a volunteer organization with a 77-year history of providing emergency assistance, shaping the youth of today into the leaders of tomorrow and dedicating resources to the counterdrug mission.

Search and rescue is a big part of the Civil Air Patrol. It helps lTD’s Division of Aeronautics search-and-rescue units locate missing aircraft. It also uses Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs), a worldwide tracking system using satellites and radio transmitters, to locate downed aircraft. CAP pilots also conduct aerial searches for county sheriff units to find missing people like Egan.

“In many events the site is located quickly, maybe even immediately,” said Tim Steffen with Idaho Division of Aeronautics. Steffen is ITD’s Civil Air Patrol coordinator, and is also a CAP pilot. “Then Aeronautics coordinates with local EMS if they need any assistance and we ensure the beacon is deactivated.”

“If a longer search is needed, we request assets like CAP or the Guard. CAP can send us planes and crews for extended aerial search, plus ground teams to help with ground search. CAP also has experts that can analyze radar or cell phone information for the missing if we need help like that. CAP is also trained in establishing an incident command post, to work the planning and coordination needed for an extensive search.”

Although the person in question usually calls to say that he or she is all right, or they turn up before the search really gets underway. But CAP is always there to help.

Besides providing search and disaster relief, CAP also operates youth cadet and aerospace education programs serving similar interests as the Division of Aeronautics’ annual Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academy.

The cadet and aerospace education programs offer information and serve as a training ground for youth interested in careers in aviation-related fields. Cadet training includes flying, rescue and first aid, aviation study and more.

The Idaho CAP Wing has seven squadrons around the state, most with both cadet and senior units (a cadet unit is made up of 13-to-l8-year-olds, senior squadrons are for those 18 years of age and older). The squadrons are located in Coeur d’Alene, Boise, Nampa, Twin Falls, Burley, Pocatello and Idaho Falls. There also are two squadrons just across the border in Spokane, Washington.

There are 243 cadets and 236 senior Civil Air Patrol members in Idaho, and nearly 27,000 cadets and more than 37,000 senior members nationally. Although the Idaho number has held steady since the mid-‘90s, but national number has grown by a little over 25% in that same timeframe.

Yet, they largely remain a secret outside of their own circles.

Anyone interested in the Civil Air Patrol, its activities or training opportunities, should contact the Civil Air Patrol-U.S. Air Force liaison office in Boise, at 208 220-4451. You can check out the Idaho squadrons at or the national website at

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