[MENA, ARK] The plane carrying missing AFC pilot, Jake Harrell, was discovered yesterday at 4:05 p.m. by a Civil Air Patrol single-engine plane. This sighting was confirmed by a State Police helicopter. Moments later, a National Guard helicopter also confirmed the sighting and lowered a Guardsman. This Guardsman confirmed that deceased remains were inside the aircraft. We are 99% sure that this individual is our friend and brother, Jake Harrell – who has been missing since Friday, January 31st.
Ground crews were able to secure the scene late last night; however, a road is still under construction –crews are using dozers and chainsaws to clear the way – to create an actual path to the crash site. Officials are hopeful that this road will be complete and the body recovered by late this evening.
Montgomery County Law Enforcement, U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement, and the Arkansas State Police have secured the scene and will work to complete an investigation as soon as a road is completed to the site. North Little Rock Police Honor Guard and Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) Law Enforcement await the chance to escort Jake back home. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are in route to complete a full examination of the scene and aircraft, once the body has been removed. No other details about the site or flight will be available until both of these investigations are complete.
The plane’s location is 26 miles away from Jake’s last check-in point, which was just south of the Buck Knob tower near Oden. The terrain is extremely rugged and steep – and is three miles off of any main road. Information from local residents, carefully gridded map patterns from GIS experts with the AFC, U.S. Forest Service, and Geographic Information office, as well as the opinion of National Guard pilots led to emphasized search efforts over that Montgomery County area in the late afternoon, yesterday. The plane is located on land that is part of the Ouachita National Forest.
“We are in the process of carefully accessing this scene so that we can lay our brother to final rest. The mountainside is difficult to get into and we predict it may take all day to complete a road to that area. We will do whatever we’ve got to, to get it done,” says Montgomery County Sherriff, David White.
The Civil Air Patrol plane that located the missing aircraft is part of the Composite Squadron based in Texarkana. Three crew members were aboard the aircraft: Lt. Col. Loren Ainsworth., Maj. Ed Goodman, and Capt. Carol Collins. The entire search operation and Harrell family remain in gratitude for all aircraft involved with tirelessly searching the landscape throughout the 12-day search.
The search area had grown to a space encompassing some 2.6 million acres. The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) believes this to be one of the largest search efforts undertaken in the history of Arkansas.
Incident Command Headquarters in Mena continues to work amid the same partners that have worked in a Unified Command structure since January 31st. This search operation would not have been successful without the many responsible for completing the task. Though the final outcome is heartbreaking and disappointing, the plane was finally found and all agencies are anxious to return Jake to his family for final rest. The following partners have been vital to this search mission: statewide Arkansas Forestry Commission crews, U.S. Forest Service, Polk, Scott, and Montgomery County Law Enforcement, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas National Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, Arkansas Geographic Information office, local volunteer fire departments, the Red Cross, and the National Weather Service.