By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – An Oregon history teacher’s guardian angel came in the form of four volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), who found his crashed plane last Wednesday in Lafayette County.
Dennis Steinbock of Klamath Falls, Oregon was making a cross-country trip in a Zodiak plane, piloting himself from Alabama to his home state last Monday when he did not show up for an expected fuel stop in Helena, Ark.
He was found 50 hours later by volunteers with the (CAP)., pinned in the wreckage of the plane which had come to rest upside down in a heavily wooded area in southeastern Lafayette County.
One of the rescuers, Water Valley rural mail carrier and CAP Captain Richard Albee said he learned late Monday of the situation.
At first light Tuesday, four volunteers with the CAP including Albee, who would compose the ground team, met at the Water Valley Airport as the mission was organized. The other volunteers were three cadets: Albee’s son, Andrew Albee who is a senior at Water Valley High School; and Oxford brothers, Joshua Locke, 20, and Jeremy Locke, 17.
The CAP serves as a civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force and is charged with search and rescue.
The trail started in Quitman County, near Marks, as the CAP ground crew started looking for the downed plane. The Air Force Rescue and Recovery Center relayed to CAP officials that a plane went off the radar in Quitman County Monday evening.
The ground crew spent the entire day traversing Quitman County, knocking on doors and checking for a signal from the downed plane’s Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT). This Transmitter, Albee explains, is activated when sensors pick up abnormal patterns from the plane. All airplanes are required to have an ELT onboard.
The Tuesday search in Quitman County involved law enforcement personnel from three counties, the CAP search plane, several volunteer pilots, and local farmers.
After a fruitless day of searching, the CAP ground crew’s search ended in Quitman County Tuesday evening.
But there was new information, another plane had left the radar in the southern portion of Lafayette County Monday.
The day’s fresh lead was a latitude, longitude coordinate from what was believed to be the downed plane’s emergency locator transmitter (ELT). This lead put Ablee much closer to home – just one county over from Yalobusha.
The ground team began the search Wednesday morning, this time headed in a different direction based on new information.
“Between Paris and Tula, we began picking up a ELT signal,” Albee said and the trail was getting hotter. The crew uses a device to detect the plane’s ELT signal which indicates the direction the signal is coming and the intensity of the signal.
By lunchtime Wednesday, the CAP ground crew in the vicinity of the downed plane and were getting a strong signal from the plane’s ELT signal.
The search area was narrowed down to a square mile in Lafayette – an area bordered by CR 331, 428, 493 and 445.
“We contacted the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department,” Albee said as two members of the crew began the search on foot.
“I told Sheriff Buddy East to get the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department helicopter, and the CAP would pay for it,” Albee explained as mid-afternoon approached.
Forty-five minutes later the helicopter touched down in a field were the would-be rescuers were staged.
After a quick briefing from Albee about where to look, the helicopter took back off, hovering just below treetop level above a heavily wooded area.
“They said, ‘We got it,’” Albee recounted.
“I said, ‘Got what?’”Albee answered the helicopter pilot, not realizing that the plane had been spotted from the air.
Using the helicopter as a reference point, the Locke brothers, who, as it turned out, were only 200 yards from the plane, were the first two rescues to approach the plane from the ground.
“They said, ‘He is alive,’” Albee said of the first words of the Locke brothers.
Albee and his son, accompanied by a deputy, also made their way to the plane on foot.
“The first thing he (pilot) said, ‘Anybody got any water?’”
At approximately 4 p.m. Wednesday evening, after dangling upside down in his wrecked plane for 50 hours, Steinbock was quickly offered water.
“I said I was with the Civil Air Patrol and we came to find you,” Albee told the pilot.
“He said, ‘I knew you would’”.
The plane, which had come to rest on the ground upside down, was hidden in 60-feet pine trees.
The four rescuers were 1,000 yards off the road, with a DeSoto County helicopter hovering above, when Albee summoned for help for the injured pilot.
Due to a lack of cellular phone service, Albee radioed the CAP plane, which was also circling overhead. The CAP pilot, according to Albee, was unable to call out using a satellite phone.
“He called out on a guard channel, and got a hold of a Northwest pilot who was flying over,” Albee explained.
The Northwest pilot radioed the Memphis airport, who shut down all radio traffic on the frequency as the situation was sorted out.
They (Memphis) notified the the appropriate rescue people, Albee explained.
“The (CAP) saved that man’s life,” Lafayette County Sheriff Buddy East told the Oxford Eagle the following morning. “They kept calling us … we went out there and helped but they kept at it. That plane was in a place we couldn’t get to without their help,” East said.
It took rescuers more than two hours to free Steinbock from the wreckage and transport him to the waiting medevac helicopter.
“He was talking, knew who he was and his date of birth,” Albee said as Steinbock was place in the helicopter.
Steinbock was flown to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis where he is recovering.
“There were cuts on my legs and my knees were in the glass and my shoulder was sore, but I knew I had to find a way to keep hydrated at all costs,” Steinbock told the Commercial Appeal from his hospital room Sunday afternoon. “I was able to get rain in a little tin top and that kept me going. I was lucky.”
He was expected to be discharged Tuesday, after miracously only suffering cracked ribs and minor cuts and bruises.
Albee explains that the CAP volunteers spend one weekend a month training, usually in a wooded acre plot in Yalobusha County. They use an ELT device, similar to the one in Steinbock’s plane in many of their training exercises.
Richard Albee is a 68 year-old retired Air Force pilot. He served two terms in Vietnam and has logged more than 9,000 hours airtime.
Andrew Albee, is a senior at Water Valley High School. He plans is working on his private pilot’s license and plans to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering.
Joshua Locke attends the University of Mississippi, where he received a full scholarship from the Air Force ROTC. Jeremy Locke will be on a full Army ROTC scholarship at the University of Mississippi, beginning in the fall.