MENA, AR (News release) - Six helicopters (from the National Guard, State Police, and US Forest Service) were expected to report to the area between Oden and Wickes where officials are hopeful to find missing AFC Pilot, Jake Harrell today. Fixed wing aircraft will complement efforts and were scheduled to begin their search by 9 a.m. Ground crews were set to explore a number of routes. Calls continue to come in from local residents with possible information about plane sightings and sounds on Friday; credible leads are all being answered, filed, and documented on maps. No possibilities are being ruled out.
An extremely tight accountability system is in place for all searchers, as the terrain and conditions are treacherous. Hard hats, radios, detailed maps containing area already covered and areas of high priority, as well as cold weather gear are all part of equipment provided to crews tasked by officials. At this point, searches are not yet open to volunteer searchers. Incident Command continues to appreciate everyone’s support and prayers; however, conditions are not suitable for volunteer crews at this time. This is a safety decision assessed by risk management factors. An official announcement will be made should that change.
The search perimeter by air has included a wide, multi-county area as follows: North and South of Lake Ouachita, over to the state line and Hwy 71, down to the Wickes area, and from there over to Lake Greeson and the Daisy community. It is estimated that this encompasses approximately a 950,000 acre area. Rivers and creek beds are being searched. Slopes from all angles are being looked over by helicopters with 6-person crews. Credible pieces of information are being explored and re-explored. Ground crews are searching specific routes amid this huge, mountainous search area, and remaining on call for sightings from aircraft.
The Incident Command structure in Mena continues as a Unified Command effort with the following partners involved: statewide Arkansas Forestry Commission crews, U.S. Forest Service, Polk, Scott, and Montgomery Law Enforcement, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas National Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, local volunteer fire departments, the Red Cross, and the National Weather Service.