Search for missing plane postponed due to dangerous weather conditions

Crews from Glenville-Cashiers Rescue Squad and Highlands Fire & Rescue combed areas throughout Macon and Jackson counties for a possible downed aircraft after receiving reports of a missing plane on Thursday evening.

Details were scarce and crews followed up on every lead that became available throughout the evening, said Fire Marshal of Jackson County Emergency Management, Michael Forbis.

“We were given a flightpath and possible latitude and longitude coordinates,” said Forbis. “Given the coordinates, we’re looking at an area all of the way through parts of North Carolina, northern Georgia, and possibly South Carolina.”

The plane in question is believed to be a small plane, possibly a Cessna. However, the search was called off around midnight as crews dealt with heavy rain and thick fog while traversing over rugged terrain.  GCRS Captain Chip Sherrill was part of a search team and said their objectives were located in isolated, hard-to-reach areas and combined with the weather made search efforts ineffective and too risky to continue.

“We went in with one of our search teams to two of the coordinates where they thought we would find something,” said Sherrill. “We went in and searched, but with the rain and fog, visibility was really low. Then the thunder and lightning came in and we had to call it off.”

Much of the terrain rescue crews had to cover was steep and rugged and when coupled with the heavy rains and thick fog, operations had to be postponed. Pictured above is an example of some of the natural obstacles crews faced along Horse Cove Road.

HFR crews faced the same issues on the Macon side of things down in the Horse Cove Road area.

“We are calling everything off for the night,” said HFR Chief Ryan Gearhart at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday after Highlands crews scoured the area along Horse Cove Road and its many side streets. “It’s too dangerous to be out and not really effective to be looking for something in the dark. Operations will resume at some point tomorrow depending on the weather.”

Forbis said when weather conditions reach last night’s level of risk, operations must be postponed.

“We had people searching in every area they could access given the weather,” he said. “But you can’t see anything in this rain and fog. Then you end up putting more people in danger while they’re looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Heavy rains buffeted rescue teams as they searched for a missing plane in areas throughout Macon and Jackson counties on Thursday evening.

Information about passengers aboard the plane is not being released at this time, said Forbis. He added that initial reports of a missing plane came from the Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration, and Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. GCRS Chief Jeff Stewart said these rescue operations can be difficult given the vast size of area to cover.

“We depend on the Civil Air Patrol to give us a direction to go,” said Stewart. “Even with those directions, it can be a shot in the dark.”

Search efforts will resume later this morning and Forbis said he is hoping the weather cooperates so a helicopter may be brought in if necessary. GCRS is taking the lead in today’s operations once the search resumes. Both rescue crews are receiving support from JCEM and Macon County Sheriff’s Department.

“We’ve got some resources we asked for coming in and we’ll see what the weather is like tomorrow,” said Forbis. “We’ll have a briefing in the morning and then get out there. The rescue squads are in charge of the searches, Emergency Management and the Sheriff’s Department are here to support them in any way we can.”

A blanket of heavy fog stretched from downtown Highlands all the way down Horse Cove Road hampering visibility while search crews looked for a missing plane in parts of Macon and Jackson counties.

All of those involved in the rescue efforts are asking the public not to go searching to “lend a hand.” Forbis said the public may have good intentions, but rescue crews are searching in an organized and safe manner based off of information the public does not have.

“We’ve run into this before, and it ends up hindering the search effort and making it ineffective,” said Forbis. “If people go searching and then they get in trouble, we have to divert resources and manpower to rescue them.”

Stay tuned to Plateau Daily News as more updates become available.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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