Ratliff search leads prove unsuccessful

Published 5:00 am Friday, April 11, 2008

Thursday marks a month and a half into the search for missing83-year-old Brookhaven woman Virginia Ratliff, whom family membersbelieve disappeared when she was leaving her home to visit herhusband in a Jackson hospital.

Authorities say there have been leads, but so far none of themhave been the one that has brought Ratliff back home.

Two weeks ago an air search was conducted with digital imagingand was designed to find anything in the landscape that sticks outas unusual or irregular. The process involves takinghigh-resolution pictures of the ground from inside an aircraft.

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Each picture covers between 500 and 1,000 feet of ground area.Once the photos are processed, each one of the possibly thousandsof photos is reviewed by technicians trained in photo analysis andsent back to local authorities.

After a point of interest – something that looks out of placefor the terrain – is located, the digital image is superimposedover a map so searchers can locate the closest road access. Groundcrews are then sent to that area to identify the point ofinterest.

Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson said images withirregularities have been filtering in, and ground crews have beensent out to research what those things might be.

“We haven’t located her yet, though we’ve located vehiclessimilar to the description of Mrs. Ratliff’s,” Henderson said.

He said there had been several cars that had shown up in thepictures that had led officials to go in on the ground. So far,though, none of those have been the right one.

“We’ve ruled them out,” Henderson said. “The ones that were inour area, we’ve looked at, and the ones that were in otherjurisdictions and counties, they’ve looked and none of them pannedout.”

Henderson said while none of the cars were Ratliff’s, thesearches have not been wasted time.

“It would be a Mercury, but not hers, or a Crown Vic, and fromthe distance in the sky, you’d still have to go check it out tomake sure,” he said. “But really, it’s helping us rule thingsout.”

Officials had stated earlier in the search that the process willtake a little longer than usual due to the large area of landcovered by the search, but that in cases where the target isactually within the search area, the digital imaging searches havenever failed.

Henderson said further air searches are a definite possibility,as the last search was conducted from a helicopter since theairplane that was to be sent wasn’t functional.

“If we need them to come back I think they would have it fixedby now,” Henderson said.

Ratliff is described as a white woman about 5-foot-1 and 135pounds, and is believed to have been driving her white 1999 MercuryGrand Marquis bearing Lincoln County tag 987-LIH. Anyone withinformation on her whereabouts is asked to call the BrookhavenPolice Department at (601)833-2424.