A long and costly search last winter for a missing Vernal pilot has left the Uintah County Search and Rescue out of money.
The futile search for Frosty Harris, 57, used up the volunteer organization's entire $2,000 annual budget, according to sheriff Lloyd Meacham.Harris's plane apparently went down during a snowstorm on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 18, en route from Vernal to Moab with a load of oil field equipment. The craft left radar tracking screens about 7:30 that night in a rugged, remote area 32 air miles southwest of Vernal. There was no communication between the craft and central dispatch after that time and no signals were ever received from the emergency locator transmitter, making the search even more difficult.
Despite efforts by more than 100 search and rescue volunteers on the ground and in the air, no trace of Harris or his craft was found. The search was officially called off two weeks later when hazardous weather conditions made it impossible to continue safely.
Meacham said shortly after the search was called off there was a possible sighting in the Sandwash area south of Myton. A commercial airplane pilot passing over the area thought he saw a fire burning, Meacham said. "That kind of got our hopes up, but we couldn't find anything."
They expect to reopen the search in mid-May when the snow starts to melt, he said. "The Civil Air Patrol will be in Vernal as soon as the weather breaks to conduct a week long training mission. They'll center their training in the area of the missing pilot."
In the meantime, he said the 35-member search and rescue team needs financial help. "We've probably put in 500 to 600 man-hours in search and rescue work since I became sheriff in January. The budget was for $2,000 for the search and rescue, and we have used every cent to pay for the fuel for airplanes and meals for those involved in the Harris search."
Search and rescue members must supply everything they need from vehicles to uniforms and training costs. They receive very little compensation in return for the time they spend serving the public. Still, there's no shortage of volunteers, said Meacham. "You name it, we've got it. Businessmen, farmers and ranchers, accountants, retirees. Just an all-around good group of guys."
They don't just help find missing people. Their services are utilized when extra security is needed at public gatherings and for general patrolling. "A few weeks ago, when there was a rash of burglaries in the Vernal area, search and rescue workers helped patrol on weekends. They don't have regular police powers, but they have radios in their vehicles to contact police. We can call on them for anything that might come up that we could use the extra manpower for," said Meacham.
A special fund-raiser will be held Monday, April 29, to aid Uintah County's volunteer Search and Rescue team. The "Uintah County Sheriff and Search and Rescue Celebrity Hootenanny" will feature an evening of family entertainment provided by country-Western performers. T.N.T. auctioneer Mike McKee of Salt Lake City will auction off dinners with local radio personalities to the highest bidders. Quilts and other homemade items will be auctioned off as well. The fund-raiser will be at 7 p.m. at the new Western Park Complex in Vernal.