Taking to the skies
ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS Pictured is a view of Coaldale and open pit mines located north. This area has been the location of three missing persons in the past year.
Members of the Ryan Township Emergency Rescue Squad have a new tool when responding to search or rescues - a Cessna 172 single engine prop plane.
Pilot John Grazel Jr., who serves as 2nd Assistant Rescue Chief with the squad, has taken it upon himself to incorporate low level aerial search and surveillance operations to the squad's already incorporated search team, dive team and ambulance. The Cessna, hangered at the Schuylkill County Joe Zerbey Airport, is utilized as part of a flight school at the airport and rental airplane. Grazel, who works as a Flight Nurse for Geisinger Health System's LifeFlight, pointed out that, in addition to their ground or dive teams, all other emergency services on the ground could benefit from their low level searches.
"The pilot and co-pilot could stress to ground teams the best direction and methods of response or recover," said Grazel.
Even though Grazel doesn't own the Cessna, its owners stated to Grazel that he will have first use of it in case of an emergency. Grazel added that the plane won't cost the taxpayers any money, pointing out that he would pay for the rental of the plane out of his own pocket for any search.
He stressed that the plane won't be used to replace ground searches or as a front line to searches, but rather provide a secondary research tool for the squad.
"The plane could provide an easier means for our rescue team and others on the group to locate lost, missing or injured hikers or ATV riders," said Grazel. "Two eyes in the sky can cover more ground area and direct crews to specific search areas, as well as provide extra search capabilities when search areas involve potentially difficult or dangerous access points."
He stated the Cessna provides about four hours of flight time before having to be refueled. With a safe slow speed of 50 miles per hout, the plane can fly as low as 500 feet above non-populated areas and 1,000 above populated.
"One of my dad's friends was a pilot," added Grazel. "At age 15, I would go on flights with my dad and his friend to find new ATV trails. One time he gave me the controls. I immediately fell in love."
While flying shotgun recently, the TIMES NEWS reporter pointed out how easy it was to spot someone through the bare winter trees and shrubbery. Grazel pointed out that most aerial operations will be limited to fall and winter months due to heavier foliage in spring and summer.
In addition, Grazel stressed that any emergency service in either Schuylkill or Carbon County is encouraged to contact him at (570) 467-3424 if they need eyes in the sky.
"One of my youngest memories involved my grandmother dropping me off at the Jake Arner Memorial Airport in Lehighton airport during my first lessons," said Grazel. "She eventually went up with me."