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Missing pilot found

Jake Harrell
Jake Harrell

Rescue and recovery crews located a Civil Air Patrol plane flown by missing pilot Jake Harrell, 34, said Adriane Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Forestry Commission and the body was recovered Wednesday afternoon.

Harrell’s body was at the site of his crashed plane on a mountainside in Montgomery County, the commission said.

A National Guard helicopter lifted Harrell from the site a day after the wreckage was spotted from the air. The North Little Rock Police Department and the commission were escorting the body back home to North Little Rock on Wednesday afternoon, according to the commission.

Harrell was also a North Little Rock police officer, in addition to being a member of the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith.

He may have crashed Jan. 31 after his single-engine plane clipped a mountain, based on visual evidence at the scene, but the cause of the accident will be investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, Barnes said.

A Civil Air Patrol plane located the crash site and a National Guard member who was lowered from a helicopter confirmed the presence of a body in the plane on Tuesday afternoon. Harrell was spotting wildfires on Jan. 31 when he stopped checking in with a dispatcher, prompting a lengthy search that was often hindered by winter weather.

The crash site is in rugged, steep terrain about three miles from the nearest main road, according to the Forestry Commission.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known.

“We will never forget what kind of example he set in terms of the citizen that he was, the husband that he was, the daddy that he was,” Barnes said. “We really have no words for how distraught the entire commission is.”

He was last known flying in an area over Oden along a regularly scheduled wildfire detection route.

Barnes said the Incident Command structure in Mena continues as a Unified Command effort with the following partners involved: statewide Arkansas Forestry Commission crews, U.S. Forest Service, Polk, Scott, and Montgomery County Law Enforcement, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas National Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, the Arkansas Geographic Information Office, local volunteer fire departments, the Red Cross, and the National Weather Service.

The Harrell family had issued a statement, thanking people who are helping in the effort while asking the public to respect their privacy on Monday, before the plane and body had been found.

“Sheriff’s office, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, Civil Air Patrol, National Weather Service, Arkansas State Police, the 188th Fighter Wing and the North Little Rock Police Department have all been supportive and responsive in an unparalleled display of cooperation and coordination,” reads the statement released by his wife, Jaime Harrell; his parents, Rick and Pam Harrell; and sister Ashley Duff.

“Our heartfelt thanks go to the pilots, ground personnel, and the team in the Incident Command Center.”

The family has chosen Pastor Rod Loy of First Assembly of God in North Little Rock to be its representative.

“It is a wonderful state, full of those willing to lift up this search effort in prayer, support, hope, and concern. The search team continues to be grateful for these offers and concerns,” said Barnes.

The Arkansas News Bureau, Greg Rayburn and Jeremy Peppas contributed to this report.

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