Search and rescue drones provide closure

Search and Rescue Drone Missions

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[Editor’s Note: To learn how you can volunteer with search and rescue missions using your drone, please visit the S.W.A.R.M. Facebook Group.]

Search and rescue is probably the ultimate way that drones are being used for good. It is hard to see a case against using them while searching for missing people or animals. They travel ground quickly, results can be reviewed, and they are quick to deploy.

Search with Aerial RC Multirotor (S.W.A.R.M.) is the largest worldwide volunteer search and rescue network of drone pilots. It comprises of over 1,100 volunteers located in 38 U.S. States and 31 countries.

Founded by drone enthusiast and artist Jim Bowers, S.W.A.R.M. is a thriving community that connects those seeking help with drone pilots, all of whom operate within set procedures. Jim shares his story of founding S.W.A.R.M. in the forthcoming documentary The Drone Invasion.

S.W.A.R.M. aims to find the missing, in part to bring closure to their loved ones. In an ideal world the missing would be found safe and well, but sadly that is not always the case.

S.W.A.R.M. leader Euan Ramsey shared a recent experience with us which – although the missing person was sadly deceased when found – shows the vital role drones play in such cases.

“There is some sad news from the Michigan search – the subject has been found, but had unfortunately died some time before being found. Our condolences go out to his family for their tragic loss, and our thanks to the amazing team which had dedicated all their time, experience and skills to this search. Without them, what I’m about to tell you now might never have happened.

A little background – Justin was reported missing on the 11th of May, and was last seen in Three Rivers, in Michigan. The alarm was raised when he did not return home.

MISAR – the local SAR group – was contacted by the family after the official search had been stood down. They were given the permission by Local LE to continue the search – and very quickly the search began to focus on the river itself.

The size and speed of the river presented considerable problems for the search, and when SWARM member Joel Bredow offered his assistance with a drone, he was given a window of opportunity before dog searches started.

Driving three hours with a Prosearch XLF, a backup Phantom, support equipment, a generator, and enough packs to allow continuous operation, he checked in onsite.

He assembled a four man boat crew (boat captain, pilot, spotter and “eyes”), with the objective of scanning the overgrown river edges with the optical sensor (the thermal would not have been effective this late in the search) using a “look under” technique. From experience, Joel knew that a using a screen in a rocking boat in glare conditions is less than optimal, he fitted out with some FPV glasses, and delegated this to the “eyes”.

From testing of this technique at Phoenix UAS with a Prosearch, we know the best approach with the optical zoom is a 40ft altitude, “look under” technique, involving slow moving parallel sweeps from some distance away, using the optical zoom to give resolution while using a shallow camera angle to look “under” the tree branches which lined the river. While the Prosearch is capable of miles of range, Joel opted to keep it close to the boat to ensure the spotter was able to detect the small “invisible” branches which could cause proximity issues on these densely wooded river banks.

It worked. On literally the first battery Justin was discovered by Joel’s team and the Prosearch. An amazing achievement.

This was very much a team effort, and the experience of the team helped Joel enormously by narrowing down the search area to very specific areas. But it was an absolute validation of just how effective the Prosearch – and drones in general – can be when used by experienced teams using tried and tested techniques. Yes, Joel used a drone that was designed from the ground up for SAR, but the mission could have been performed with phantoms and other “prosumer” gear, using techniques more suited to those platforms.

Like football, the guy who scored the touchdown couldn’t have done it without the strength and skill of the whole team.

We thank Joel for his service and proving just how effective drones are in Search and Rescue”

To volunteer to help in search and rescue missions using your drone, join the S.W.A.R.M. Facebook Group


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