KEARNY MESA (CBS 8) - As the largest search-and-rescue operation in the United States, the Civil Air Patrol - and its 65,000 volunteers nationwide - have a special appreciation of the challenges, and the necessary skills, in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
"We're always training, so that when the time comes for a real search-and-rescue, we can take on just about any scenario someone can throw at us," said Major Ross Veta, commander of Civil Air Patrol Squadron 144 out of Kearny Mesa.
Case in point: the harrowing search, and ultimate recovery, of a single-engine plane that crashed into Volcan mountain near Julian last October, killing the couple aboard.
"To be there for the real deal, it was intense, but we had to keep calm and do our jobs," said Civil Air Patrol cadet Everett Costello.
He and fellow cadet Jacob Veta, both members of Squadron 144, braved miles of rough terrain and frigid conditions in the dark to help recover the plane hours after it initially went missing.
"It was about 30 degrees, but with the winds at 60 miles per hour, that was really cold, especially coming up the side of the hill when it was blowing sleet, snow, hail all over us," Jacob Veta told CBS News 8.
"It was miserable, but you have to keep that in the back of your mind and stay focused on the mission," Costello added.
It was a mission that first required tracking the plane's approximate location, with the help of the plane's emergency locator transmitter, or ELT. The distress beacon transmitted an emergency signal picked up by satellite. Satellite receiving stations on the ground then helped Air Force rescue coordinators dispatch Civil Air Patrol volunteers, who used similar technology from the air, and the ground, to eventually zero in on the crash site.
"We're motivated by the fact that we need to find that aircraft, and find out what happened," Costello said.
As for the ongoing search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, these volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol caution against jumping to unfounded conclusions.
"We need to be careful that nobody draws a conclusion until a conclusion can be drawn from hard evidence," Maj. Ross Veta said.
"I'm just sitting back and letting the professionals do what the professionals do," added Major Roy Knight of Fallbrook Squadron 87, "and eventually we'll find out what happened."
The Civil Air Patrol's Cadet Program offers young people from ages 12 to 21 the chance to train to become a CAP volunteer, teaching everything from aviation and leadership to survival and search-and-rescue skills. For more information, go to gocivilairpatrol.com.
Some of the footage used in this video report was shot using a GoPro camera.