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Digital search and rescue

Duncan resident Pineshi Gustin looks at the article feauturing her on the front page of the Idaho Statesman recently of her volunteer discovery using imagery of a plane crash site near Johnson Creek airport in central Idaho. Gustin looked through more than 10,500 images before she flagged a shot with two objects (plane debris) which resulted in the discovery of the crash site.  - Ashley Degraaf
Duncan resident Pineshi Gustin looks at the article feauturing her on the front page of the Idaho Statesman recently of her volunteer discovery using imagery of a plane crash site near Johnson Creek airport in central Idaho. Gustin looked through more than 10,500 images before she flagged a shot with two objects (plane debris) which resulted in the discovery of the crash site.
— image credit: Ashley Degraaf

Helping folks locate plane crash sites has sort of become a challenge for Duncan’s Pineshi Gustin.

The 61-year-old finds sorting through thousands of satellite images similar to the thrill of piecing together a particularly tricky puzzle.

But there’s also an emotional aspect attached to it. And it’s quite clear when she speaks of how the hobby began.

“We lost a pilot by the name of Ron Boychuk on October 23, 2007 during a flight from Revelstoke, B.C. to the intended destination of the Nanaimo Airport,” she explained. “Through a private source at that time, we did an internet search and rescue covering the territory between Revelstoke and Malakwa, B.C.”

Still to this day, Boychuk and his aircraft have yet to be located.

“From then on, we did another search for another Beech aircraft flying for a local Canadian geophysical company based in Guyana, who lost their team plane with three young men,” Gustin said. “One young man was named Patrick Murphy from the east coast.”

Gustin was most recently instrumental in the discovery of a single-engine Beech Bonanza aircraft owned by Dale Smith that went down in a densely forested area in the mountains of central Idaho.

That crash saw five folks die instantly.

But Gustin’s flagging of an image, which led to the discovery of the plane that went missing Dec. 1, brought closure to the families.

“It was quite a large area... the mountains there are steep and there was snow,” she explained. “The reason I flagged that photo was there wasn’t any snow on the trees. There was what we call a flash. When the plane hits the ground, there are objects and I marked these objects on the photo with two red arrows.”

Gustin figures the objects were debris from the plane, in particular lights from the wings.

She alerted members of a group of about 2,300 online searchers on the TOMNOD: Smith Plane Search page about the abnormality she found.

Gustin’s venture into digitalSAR (search and rescue) began with not only the Boychuk search but also with the one for daredevil billionaire Steve Fossett and his single-engine Bellanca in the Nevada desert in 2007.

“I got intrigued in the work. I don’t know why. I’m not even a pilot,” the new-to-Duncan resident said.

On an average day when Gustin’s volunteering for a case, she will scour through 2,000 to 5,000 photos in one sitting.

“And I’ll do it all over again the next day,” she said.

“That’s why I got involved. I guess because of that hope and knowing what I can do, what I am capable of, and because I am tenacious.

“I don’t give up,” she said.

She often uses a magnifying glass to help see images more clearly and uses whatever tools are available online.

She’s a member of a group called FutureSar and still connects with members to share news, finds, and tips through accounts and diary entries.

Gustin has also heard of another crash in Arkansas and a search for the missing pilot Jake Harrell.

She’s currently waiting for authorities to wrap up their air searches and official word a volunteer search has been launched.

And she hasn’t given up on Boychuk.

“I will continue to look for Ron Boychuk. I will find Ron Boychuk. There never is a day that I ever quit looking for him.”

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