By Nick Austin, Meteorologist / Reporter - bio | email
An aerial photo of the area where Gail Palmgren's Jeep Rubicon was discovered. / courtesy HCSO
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN, HAMILTON COUNTY (WRCB) -- By the time North Carolina's CUE Center for Missing Persons joined the search for Gail Palmgren in late September, the Signal Mountain mom and her red Jeep Rubicon had been missing for almost five months.
CUE founder Monica Caison knew it would take a while longer to find them, since an earlier air search turned up empty.
"Any wooded terrain at all in the summertime is going to be thick, it's going to have a lot of undergrowth, overgrowth, and it's very top heavy," says Caison.
The overgrowth obstructed aerial views. A change of season is what the investigation needed, but in the meantime they couldn't just wait around for the leaves to fall.
"There were other aspects of the investigation going on and other searches being conducted for Gail during the process of knowing that they were still going to search this area," explains Caison.
Leads were followed and areas lower to the ground were combed. Then once autumn progressed and the leaves fell, a path was cleared for CUE's high resolution digital imaging equipment to help investigators see the forest through the trees.
It only took an hour into Thursday's flight to find the jeep.
"We had great, bright sunlight," Caison recalls. "It was the ideal time of year and we were in the location that investigators felt strong about."
Relying on what could be seen from the air had to wait for Mother Nature to take its course. Like weather and changing of the seasons, timing is everything.
"It always is,' Caison says. "And when you have a vehicle missing you have to be in the right place at the right time."
After finding the vehicle, human remains, believed to be those of Gail Palmgren, were found in the vicinity.
Caison says the CUE Center has completed its part in the investigation for now and the rest of the work is in the hands of law enforcement.
However, if services are needed again the staff will return.