Death Of Pilot Prompts Review Of Rescue System

The death of Civil Air Patrol pilot Jim Powell, who died awaiting rescue after his plane crashed in the Cascades last month, has prompted State Sen. Bob Morton to request a review of the state's air search-and-rescue system.

Morton (R-Orient) said a power struggle between the Civil Air Patrol and the state Aviation Division may have hampered the efforts to save Powell, who survived the crash but eventually died of hypothermia.

The review, which will be conducted Monday by the Senate Transportation Committee, would allow legislators to evaluate whether the air-search responsibilities should be transferred from the Aviation Division - a part of the state Department of Transportation - to another organization, such as the Air National Guard.

The National Guard, Morton said, offers "more resources, more sophisticated equipment" and could respond "in a more timely manner."

Morton said it's important "we get this turf battle resolved before the next search mission."

The Aviation Division and the Civil Air Patrol have a long-running feud over how air searches should be conducted. The Civil Air Patrol contends the state is trying to squeeze out the patrol's role in searches.

The Aviation Division, on the other hand, claims that CAP wants command over air searches, and often sends its pilots "mavericking" over the division's authority.

CAP leaders have said Powell might have been saved if Aviation Division officials Bill Brubaker and Brian Holmes had allowed CAP planes to start the search earlier.

Both Brubaker and Holmes have said, however, that bad weather prevented an early search.

Powell crashed his CAP Cessna 182 into Nelson Butte, east of Bumping Lake, in the early morning of April 12. Notes left by Powell, 29, of Kirkland, indicated that he lived at least nine hours after the crash. A full search did not begin until the next day.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash and the subsequent search.

"Senator Morton never called and talked to me about his concerns, and frankly, I'm a little burned about that," said Aviation Division director Brubaker. Brubaker said he has concerns over the idea of transferring authority to the Guard.

"First of all, does the National Guard want this?" Brubaker said responsibility for air searches would include training pilots, conducting flight clinics and other activities not immediately apparent.

Steve Carmick, CAP attorney, said his organization "has a very good relationship" with the Air National Guard. "We have worked side by side on many missions. If the Legislature were to make a transfer, we're confident we could work very well together."