On Tuesday Sept 30th at 4:15 pm Polk County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch received a phone call from Memphis Air Center that a small plane, a Piper Cherokee, was going to attempt to make an emergency landing in a field seventeen miles west of the Mena Airport. Their information came from the pilot of the plane via radio communication. There was no further information received from the plane at that time. With no confirmation of a safe landing, Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Polk County Emergency Management (OEM) were notified in attempt to locate the plane.
OEM identified seventeen miles west of Mena Airport as being the Arkansas/Oklahoma state line between an area north of Hwy 246 W and Alder Springs. Deputies were dispatched to these areas to try and locate the field in which the plane landed. The Sheriff’s Department used tracking devices to attempt to locate the plane’s Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) that is designed to activate automatically and start transmitting a signal to help locate the plane during a crash or hard landing.
OEM staff remained at the office to assist with mapping and communicating with the FAA and the Air Force’s Crash/Rescue center in Dallas. GPS coordinates were received and plotted across the state border and into Oklahoma. Both Leflore & McCurtain counties were notified along with United States Forest Service law enforcement. Polk County Deputies are still searching fields along the possible route for any signs of a plane landing.
Shortly after 5pm, a second set of GPS coordinates were received from Air Force Rescue that was plotted seventeen miles southwest of the Mena Airport in the Whiskey Peak area west of Hatton. The Sheriff’s office was updated and deputies begun to search in this area. OEM identified by aerial photography possible landing areas. AirEvac, the air medical helicopter in DeQueen, was contacted and asked to join the search to help quickly locate the plane from the air due to not knowing if there were injuries or not.
Nathan Cline, a local pilot and owner of an aviation business at the Mena Airport was contacted by OEM to ask for technical assistance in aiding the search. He stated that the pilot was a customer of his and that the pilot had already contacted him and that both he and his wife were on the ground safely after an emergency landing. Mr. Cline stated that the plane was in the Vandervoort area. OEM requested the pilot’s cell phone number and made direct contact with the pilot and determined that the plane was one to two miles west of Vandervoort and north of Hwy 246 East. Deputies Randy Jewell and Clint Bell responded to the area, being familiar with the area as they both live there.
Deputy Jewell had the pilot, Fred Fallis of Sevier County, on the phone trying to determine an exact area by landmarks when Mr. Fallis stated that he heard a siren. Deputy Bell had located the plane and was attempting the get the pilot’s attention with his siren. Deputy Bell had been alerted to the plane’s location by his son, that was riding in a private vehicle with his mother when he noticed a plane in the field, and called his dad.
Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Polk County OEM responded to the field in which the plane safely landed. Once verified that everyone was safe, the plane’s ELT was turned off in order to avoid interfering with any other air traffic in our area.
The FAA gave clearance from the plane and scene to be released to the plane’s owner as it was determined not to have be an accident or crash, just an off-airport landing. The plane will be repaired on site and flown back to Mena Airport for a complete inspection.