According to AFC spokesperson Adriane Barnes, the wreckage was spotted initially by Civil Air Patrol and then confirmed by a state police helicopter. Harrell was found within the plane by a soldier with the National Guard, who was lowered from a helicopter down to the crash site. Crews continue working to recover the body from the remote crash site. Jake’s location is 26 miles away from his last check-in point, just south of the Buck Knob tower. The terrain is extremely rugged and steep – and is three miles off of any main road. As of Wednesday morning, crews still had one mile left of road to build to get to the site.
The agency’s hearts are heavy as well as the countless volunteers and various agencies who worked for 12-days searching for Harrell. “Our hearts are with his wife and son.” Harrell’s pastor was at Incident Command today and he was the one who delivered the tragic news to his wife, Jamie.
The Civil Air Patrol crew that discovered the missing AFC plane was part of the 95th Composite Squadron based in Texarkana. The crew was comprised of Lt. Col. Loren Ainsworth., Maj. Ed Goodman, and Capt. Carol Collins.
Crews encountered countless weather challenges with ice and snow that made finding a white plane in a 400,000 acre search of rugged terrain like finding a needle in a haystack and treacherous for those not appropriately trained. Barnes said that it was tips from people in the region of the crash site that led them to wreckage.
The exact cause of the crash is unknown at this time but those involved said that the plane may have clipped some trees or even a rugged mountain as Harrell was patrolling for wildfires on a routine course through the Ouachitas. It is suspected that he detoured from the his course due to the low visibility on the day he vanished.
Jake Harrell had been missing since Friday, January 31st, when he failed to check in after communicating with AFC Central Dispatch in Malvern. He was last known flying in an area over Oden along a regularly scheduled wildfire detection route. Jake was 34-years old and had flown with the AFC since 2005 – alongside service with the Arkansas Air National Guard 188th Fighter Wing and employment with the North Little Rock Police Department.
The Incident Command structure in Mena worked as a Unified Command effort with the following partners involved: 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, the Arkansas Geographic Information Office, local volunteer fire departments, the Red Cross, and the National Weather Service.