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AETC unit called in on difficult recovery effort

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Kirtland's 58th Special Operations Wing took part in a search and recovery operation to locate an aircraft missing near Pagosa Springs, Colo. since Sunday.

The effort concluded Wednesday with the discovery of the crash site and the extraction of the remains of two Albuquerque residents who perished in the crash.

While the effort had a tragic outcome, aircrews from the 58th were honored that they were able to play a key role in bringing the search to a conclusion, according to commander Col. Dagvin Anderson.

"Though our primary focus is to preserve life wherever possible, the mission prepares you for the possibility of a rescue becoming a recovery," Col. Anderson said. "We were able to provide our unique capabilities to the search effort, locate and airlift the remains out of very difficult terrain in what was often an equally difficult weather environment. We were glad to bring some resolution for the victims' families and our local community."

The wing trains special operations and personnel recovery aircrews, including search and rescue Airmen, to conduct these activities in support of worldwide operations. Capabilities including Forward Looking Infrared Radar and night vision goggles combined with the ability of wing's aircraft to overcome conditions and locate the crash site and victims. The search focused on an area covering 10 miles at elevations ranging from 9,000 to 11,000 feet, in what was zero visibility shortly after the wing joined the effort on Tuesday, according to Maj. Jacob Hess, an aircraft commander on an HC-130P Combat King that searched the area on Tuesday.

"It was zero visibility and no moonlight as well, so we had to rely on our infrared capability to search the area," Maj. Hess said. He explained that technology and the search and rescue aircraft flown by the wing mean they can bring capabilities to a search effort are not readily available anywhere else within the region. When these capabilities become necessary, civil authorities reach out to the Air Force.

The civil search team reached out Tuesday, when the Kirtland unit responded to a request to augment the ongoing Pagosa Springs operation from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. The wing committed an HC-130P Combat King rescue aircraft to the search Tuesday, and an HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter and another HC-130P were actively taking part at the time of the recovery Wednesday. 58th aircrews were augmented by Airmen from the New Mexico Air National Guard's 150th Special Operations Wing, also at Kirtland.

Because of their unique search and rescue capabilities, the wing regularly conducts rescue missions in New Mexico and the region.  Since 1971, the 58th has been credited with saving 240 lives by performing more than 300 search & rescue missions in support of local civil authorities.
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