The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


May 27, 2014

Search for downed aircraft has happy ending

ALLEGHENY TOWNSHIP — Emergency response crews from Loretto, Ashville and Cresson, as well as state police, combed a wooded area for hours Tuesday, near Lincoln Road and Sutton Lane, just northeast of Loretto Borough.

They were looking for a hang glider operator believed to be downed by Tuesday’s heavy storm and lost among the trees. What they found was decidedly less dramatic and more ... festive.

“Upon initial search, nothing was found,” said Loretto fire Chief Scott Eckenrode. A Medevac emergency helicopter was also scouting the wooded areas and fields nearby. “On a secondary search, we found some large balloons.”

Not weather balloons – authorities checked with the National Weather Service and the only scientific unit in the area was still afloat, heading south, Eckenrode said – but birthday balloons. It was a pleasant surprise for the search teams, although the emergency response effort was at full tilt.

“We have to take every precaution. We have to expend everything we possibly can to make sure it was not somebody,” Eckenrode said. “Because you don’t know (for sure).”

Aside from the weather balloon angle, crews also accounted for all the known hang glider owners in the area, coordinated with the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport on any unreturned fliers and checked with a small hangar in Osterburg.


“We got a report of a small aircraft down,” he said. That call came in around 1:30 p.m., he added.

“We spoke with the caller. She stated it looked like a powered parachute. ... People were suggesting it was either a hang glider or an ultralight.”

Several neighborhood volunteers rode up on all-terrain vehicles to assist EMS personnel.

“It was a good outcome. Nobody got injured,” Eckenrode said.

Justin Dennis covers Allegheny Township for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at


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