Had my first ELT experience

I had my first ELT experience as an Airport Manager on Friday night. I left the terminal around 5pm and headed to the store to do some grocery shopping with my wife. When we got home later that night I had 4 messages on my answering machine that there is a possible downed aircraft and 911, CAP, and EMS are looking for me to help in the S&R operations.

We searched using CAP, a helicopter w/ FLIR, and an aircraft for hours! Finally around 1am on Saturday morning we opened up hangar 7 on field a the plane inside had the ELT going off! It seemed to be a faulty power wire connection combined with a aging ELT.

The ironic thing is that I had received an e-mail from the FAA that morning about the phasing out of the 121.5MHz ELT’s by Feb 1, 2009.

It was a learning experience that is leading to the updating of emergency procedures at my airport and the re-issuing of hangar locks so that the airport, and EMS, has a single master key.

I hope that learning experience also included a way for you to always be contacted such as a pager (are they even still used now a days?) or a cell/satellite phone.

Glad everything turned out okay.

EDIT: Re-reading your posting: Did they just need to get hold of you for keys only or was there another reason you were needed on the field for the ELT activation?

To be precise, all that is phasing out is satalite monitoring of 121.5. Existing 121.5 ELTs will still be legal. I’m not sure about the sale of new ones.

I wish the FAA would require the fleet to go to 406mhz ELTs, a couple of my partners want to drag their feet about getting modern ELTs to replace our old 121.5 models.

They did need me on field so they could have permission to enter the airport property (T-hangars). Plus I did have the keys, at least some keys that were passed down from previous management. We ran into about 4 locks we could not open and had to cut which is why we decided to go to a standard lock with a single master key.

You are correct about the 121.5 ELT’s. They are going to stop the monitoring of those ELT’s. If your plane is still equipped with the 121.5 after Feb 2009 then you will be reliant upon planes passing over your crash site, or ground stations who happen to be monitoring the 121.5 frequency.

The new 406 ELT’s are much better since they have owner information with them. If they get a signal from a 406 they can call a contact number to see if it is in fact a false alarm, such as our case, and save a lot of time and resources.

As a former CAP Squadron Commander I can tell you that this happens more often than you’d think.

I was always taught, and taught my students, to check 121.5 before powering off the avionics. Not only does it check for signals for your ELT it may alert you to another going off on the field.

That is a great idea. I have never heard of an instructor, or had one for that matter, that has ever done this. I will keep this in mind!

Why did they go all crazy with the FLIR helicopters and CAP flights before trying the simplest things first? I’ve had CAP out at the airport plenty of times using a direction-finding device to pinpoint the source of the ELT signal. Hell, you can even use a handheld radio with the antenna unscrewed to find an ELT. It just sounds like you’ve got some overzealous S&R folks there.

That was a post-flight/ securing a/c rule my flight school had printed on their checklist too. VERY good habit as students are good at 3 wheeled ‘crashes’ that could potentially trigger the ELT.

The satellite reception for 121.5 ELT’s has been pretty bad for awhile, so I’m not convinced that it will make a big difference when they officially decommission them.

I had an ELT experience last month after an annual where they did the so-called “football test” to activate the acceleration switch on the ELT to simulate a crash. The A&P forgot to reset the ELT after the test and the phones started ringing a short time later. After using a handheld to track down that problem and turn it off, he checked 121.5 and still heard the emergency tone. Turns out that a Cirrus had crashed nearby at around the same time and activated its ELT. No-one was hurt, but they locked the plane and left. As we soon learned, you can’t get to the ELT in a locked Cirrus (and don’t even want to get very close to the plane in case the rocket powered chute was damaged).

They did try the hangars first. They could not get a good lock on the signal, even with the antenna-less handheld! They checked the hangars in front, behind, and all around the actual hangar, but missed the one in the middle. They then went out on the runway and got a very strong signal off the west side of the runway which is a big field with a large tree row. They called in the FLIR KHP helicopter after night time and they could no longer see with the airplane that was up. (Decision made by local Fire Chief, not CAP)

CAP looked like a bunch of MUFON groupies that night! I am glad we have CAP and they do a pretty good job most of the time but they were struggling that night. The good thing was, it was a false alarm and at least no one’s life was on the line.

Just curious, what is the advantage of taking the antenna off? I can’t imagine it would help direction finding. Is it simply so that you have to be right on top of the signal to hear it so you can search a limited area?

Link to MUFON

Yes. But it’s hardly foolproof. I’ve done it before walking around the ramp, but it would be much harder if the airplane was in a hangar. The CAP has specialized handheld equipment, kinda like a wildlife radio collar reciever with an ADF.

Which brings up an often had discussion. What exactly can the CAP do if the owner cannot be located and the ELT is inaccessible? I remember one S/R mission where we did locate an ELT that had gone off during a hard landing on a grass strip (not the target A/C). Can we cut the antenna off? Put a bucket upside down over it? Break into the A/C? Can the irresponsible pilot be charged with interfering with a rescue operation?

As in Steve Fossett’s case we never located the target A/C. In soft tree forests (pine, etc.) the trees just kind of part and let the A/C fall through. It was located a few months later by a hunter. What is interesting though is that we had a “psychic” stop by the command post and the wreckage was located within the area of a dime she laid on the chart (we even sent a ground team to that area). Never discount any possibilites!

Good topic, I never think to check the freq. On the other hand I’ve officially changed my name from Rusty to Greaser so its not much of an issue. :stuck_out_tongue:

We fly around in cruise monitoring 121.5 all of the time…occasionally we’ll here an ELT. Today was fun though…we heard some F-16’s intercept a Cessna single that had busted the ADIZ off the coast of FL. Lucy…you have some splainin to do…

**WAAAAAaaaaaaaah **


Almost as fun as monitoring 123.45 at night. Those freight guys are sick in the head.

Talking to packages will do that to you…

There’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with talking to packages! It’s only a problem when the packages start talking back :laughing: