ODEN, AR - More than 200 people were involved today by land and air in trying to bring home missing Arkansas Forestry Commission pilot Jake Harrell, who disappeared on Jan. 31 while looking for wildfires.
Fifteen aircraft were committed to the search, nine of them from the Civil Air Patrol, four AFC planes, a State Police Helicopter, and two National Guard helicopters.
Some 75 hours alone were flown by aircraft on Monday, not including hours flown by the National Guard.
At a staging area in Oden, a crew was on standby Wednesday afternoon waiting for searchers up in the air to spot something they would then locate from the ground.
The search got a break from the snow and ice coming down and that's good news for the search efforts in
mountainous Western Arkansas terrain. It's the site of day 5 of the search for Harrell, 34.
As planes and helicopters look from above, teams from the Montgomery and Polk County Sheriff's Offices join the ground search.
Wednesday -- the search area expanded to 800 acres south and west of the Oden where Harrell called in a radio check last Friday.
"This hits home for everybody that's involved," says Troy Hogue, chair of Henderson State University's School of Aviation, where Harrell had been a student and instructor. "We're constantly praying,"
Hogue describes Harrell as a great guy and experienced pilot.
A husband and father, Harrell was flying a wildfire scouting mission in a single engine Cessna when weather began to deteriorate. Searchers assume he went down unexpectedly.
"It could be a mechanical issue," says Hogue.
But fellow pilots say there's no telling what happened until Harrell is found.
"It could be a birdstrike. Who knows what's caused this to occur," he says.
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