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Update: Search for Missing AFC Pilot Continues

Jake Harrell was last heard from Friday afternoon. Bad weather hampered weekend search efforts.
Jake Harrell, missing pilot
Jake Harrell, missing pilot
Update (Feb. 3):
LITTLE ROCK, AR - The search resumes today for missing Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) Pilot Jake Harrell in the Ouachita Mountains.

The AFC says via its Facebook page that helicopter support from the Arkansas National Guard and the Arkansas State Police will be provided today; alongside several AFC planes. With visibility good, the sky will be full of searchers, the AFC says. Crews will concentrate on an area on the north side of Harrell’s supposed flight route.

People will also be searching on the ground. One area they will cover is just south of Oden. The terrain in the Ouachitas is steep, bushy, heavily forested.

The search strategy is based on information from Jake’s cell provider about what is thought to be his last transmission before he went missing on Friday.

AFC news release:
MENA, AR - Following morning briefings, crews and equipment are engaging a lengthy, thorough search of segments of the Ouachita National Forest in the area south of Oden. Meetings included an overview of carefully designed search routes by land and air and a detailed weather forecast. Officials are hopeful that with improved weather conditions and clear visibility,  the day will be productive in locating missing AFC pilot, Jake Harrell.

Crews include equipped teams, familiar with the challenging terrain consistent throughout the Ouachitas, from the Arkansas Forestry Commission, U.S. Forest Service, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and law enforcement from Montgomery and Polk County. At this point, crews do not need assistance from volunteers, but appreciate deeply the support and concern of so many. A very tight accountability system is in place to ensure the safety of search crews amid thick forested land, steep hills, and heavy underbrush. Much of the region is still also affected by ice storm damage, which has created many roads that are impassable for vehicles altogether. 

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 and Montgomery Law Enforcement, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas National Guard, Arkansas State Police, Emergency Management crews from Polk and Montgomery County, local volunteer fire departments, the National Weather Service, and the North Little Rock Police Department.

Update (Feb. 2, 4:30 p.m.)
MENA, AR -- Crews searched nearly 200 miles Saturday night, but Sunday's search for missing AFC pilot Jake Harrell has been "very restricted due to icy road conditions," according the the Arkansas Forestry Commission.

“We are confident that with a large fleet of aircraft and highly trained ground crews, as well as improved weather conditions, that tomorrow will be a productive day in the search,” said Incident Commander, Billy Black in a release.

Update (Feb 2,  10:00 a.m.)

MENA, AR --  Ground crews searched all night along routes below the supposed flight path of missing AFC pilot, Jake Harrell.

Last night, more than 200 miles were traveled along back roads and rugged trails, searching for some sign of the pilot or plane.

Ground squads are focusing today on the north side of the supposed flight route with steep slopes, near Oden.

Four wheelers will be used to access challenging  sections of terrain.

This concentrated effort is based on information from Harrell’s cell provider about what is thought to be his last transmission before he went missing on Friday.

The Incident Command Post in Mena is carefully monitoring the weather situation.

Original Story (Feb. 1):
MENA, AR -- Weather is hampering the search for a missing Arkansas Forestry Commission pilot who lost communications with the control center Friday afternoon.
  
Saturday was the second day of desperate efforts in western Arkansas to find 34-year-old Jake Harrell.
  
We're told Harrell is a "family man" who's training to be a North Little Rock Police officer.  He's also a 14-year veteran with the Arkansas Air National Guard.
  
Friday, Harrell was working his other job as a pilot for the forestry commission when the plane he was flying disappeared.

Ever since, multiple state agencies have been working to find him.  At the search command center in Mena, top state officials are scouring maps, figuring out where to direct crews next.

"When it's you one of your own that's missing it feels like a family member's missing," said Adriane Barnes with the Arkansas Forestry Commission.

25 teams of search crews are spread out across more than 1,000 acres in three counties working the ground while a National Guard helicopter and two Air Service Control planes search from above.

But conditions are less than ideal.

"I think visibility is probably 100 to 150 feet at the most," said AFC investigator Billy Black.

Forestry officials say Harrell was flying a single-engine Cessna scouting for wildfires.

He was west of the city of Oden when he called in his coordinates just after 1:00pm Friday.  Forestry officials haven't heard from him since.

"We have no information at this point about what happened to the plane, whether the pilot was in distress," Barnes said.  "There was literally zero communication."

Search efforts will continue overnight Saturday, but there are worries ice buildup could make efforts in the rocky, mountainous terrain even more difficult going forward.
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