Plane's emergency transmitter is 'beacon of hope' for search crews

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - Dangerous weather forced crews to call off the search for a plane missing near Donnelly Thursday.

About a dozen searchers on horseback were turned back. However, the single-engine Cessna 206 has an Emergency Locator Transmitter that may be a beacon of hope for the pilot and two passengers who were on board.

The plane left McCall Wednesday morning, headed for the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Search crews have narrowed their search to an area just outside of Donnelly because of the signal from the plane's emergency transmitter.

The signal on the plane goes off automatically when it feels impact, and sends a signal to a satellite to alert emergency crews.

There are different types of transmitters. Older models emit signals that can only be picked up by planes that fly within range of the device. Experts say thankfully, the locator in the Cessna 206 is extremely accurate, and can put crews within a few miles of the plane or its passengers.

"They're pretty reliable," said Cammie Patch, who is a Chief Flight Instructor at Glass Cockpit Aviation in Boise. "This is just a piece of the puzzle, and hopefully one you will never have to depend on. If you needed it though, you'd really like it."

Patch says she's never had to use an ELT. However, she found out how well they can work by mistake.

"Somebody accidentally turned it on one time," Patch said. "They thought it was a different switch, and I immediately got a call."

That call came from emergency crews, who got the signal from the plane's ELT.

"The pilot would know that somebody is going to start looking immediately, and that's a really good thing," Patch said.

Patch said this newer ELT can help crews pinpoint a search area much easier than they could with an older locator that can't send a signal via satellite.

"I think its about a two-mile radius search area," Patch said. "Which is probably five to six times better than the older ones were."

Accuracy is especially important, Patch said, when you're dealing with difficult terrain and harsh weather conditions.

"There are a lot of variables with flying, and for the most part it's super safe," Patch said. "But you have to cover all your bases, and when things are out of your control it's nice to have something like this to be a last resort."

The Emergency Locator Transmitters are battery powered, and Patch said they should be able to last at least a few days after the signal is activated. She also said they are weatherproof, so should be able to hold up in harsh weather conditions.

The device can also be taken out of the plane, in case the passengers needed to move to another area.