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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Salem graduate searches for debris from Space Shuttle Columbia

Friday, February 7, 2003

Former Salem resident Rick Gicla, a chief pilot for the United States Forest Service Southern Region, has been requested to help search for debris of the Columbia Space Shuttle which crashed approximately eight minutes prior to its scheduled landing Feb. 1 in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Gicla, under the direction of NASA, pilots a King Air 200, specially equipped with high-tech digital computerized cameras and will search the grid area around the crash site in southeast Texas. Gicla's job is to pilot the craft while his partner photographs the area which is about 40 miles wide and 100 miles long. The photographs will be reviewed by NASA, Gicla explained.

Gicla said he is currently on standby in Alexandria, La., where he is temporarily based for the mission. He said due to cloudy weather his flight has been delayed.

At the time of the impact Gicla was in Tennessee when he received notification from the government about his latest assignment.

Most of the time Gicla is busy flying as the lead plane pilot directing other planes that are fighting forest fires.

He is the son of Lori and Don Benedict, owners of Mountain Air, based at Baxter County Regional Airport. Mrs. Benedict said her son left Salem in 1984 after graduating from Salem High School. With his interest in flying he attended a flight school in Tulsa, Okla., and graduated with an airline transport pilot license in 1986.

The Benedicts are Sturkie ranchers who provided aircraft from their company to fight the Colorado wildfires in May and June of last year.

The couple's twin engine Piper Seneca III was used at air attack command centers in the Missionary Ridge wild fires near Durango, Colo.

Mountain Air has been in business for over 10 years and has a contract with the forestry service. The charter business was formed because of Gicla's interest with piloting. "He flew for us, the government liked his work, and offered him a job. This is where it led him," said Mrs. Benedict.

Gicla now resides in Atlanta, but his daughter, Lacey, is a seventh-grader at Salem Elementary School.

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