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Drones in Search and Rescue: 5 Stories Showcasing Ways Search and Rescue Uses Drones to Save Lives

BY Zacc Dukowitz
18 January 2019

Using a drone to save someone’s life used to be something of a novelty. But these days, it seems like drones are being used more and more in search and rescue scenarios, and proving instrumental in those operations.

Police and fire departments have also been adopting drones, and often collaborate with local search and rescue teams in using them for time-sensitive rescue operations.

In this article, we’ll look at situations where a drone was a crucial tool in helping search and rescue volunteers or personnel save someone’s life. Most of the scenarios we’ll cover involved people who were lost, and a drone made it possible to survey a large area in a small amount of time, thus saving the lost person from dying of exposure, dehydration, or other related issues.

Let’s take a look.

1. Drone Lights Up Efforts to Save Hiker Trapped on Ledge at Night in Utah

In January of 2019 a search and rescue team in Snowy Canyon State Park, Utah used a drone to help rescue a hiker trapped on a ledge at night.

The trapped hiker was 60 years old. Search and rescue first found out that he was trapped from other hikers who had heard the man calling out for help from the ledge where he was trapped.

Snowy Canyon State Park Drone Rescue

Snowy Canyon State Park, Ohio

In this instance, the drone was used as a light source so that the search and rescue team could see where the man was. As search and rescue personnel climbed up to the man and helped him repel down to safety, the drone hovered in the air, providing light for the operation.

2. Drone Helps Find Missing 88-Year-Old Man in Texas

Also earlier this January, 88-year-old Luis Reyna Zuniga was reported missing after leaving his home in Brownsville, Texas at 5:30 p.m.

Search and rescue team members pooled their efforts with local police and fire department personnel, and deployed a drone with a thermal camera to try and find the missing man.

At 11 p.m. that night the drone located the man in tall grass in a field by a levee, a location that might have been difficult to locate by searchers working only with the information they could gather on foot and by car.

3. Drone Helps Find Two Cousins Trapped on a Mountainside in Iceland

In April of 2018, the Dalvik Search & Rescue Team used a drone to find two cousins who were stranded on the side of a steep mountain in Dalvik, Iceland.

One of the cousins was holding a cell phone out as a light source. The search and rescue team was able to use that light to locate the cousins with the drone they had in the air, and then relay information to rescuers on the ground about how to find them.

For this rescue mission, the Dalvik Search & Rescue Team was honored at the 112 Awards ceremony in Ljubljana, Slovenia by the European Emergency Number Association (EENA), an NGO focused on public safety based in Brussels. In recognition for their efforts in saving the two cousins, the EENA awarded the Dalvik team their Outstanding Tech for Safety Award.

To promote the use of drones in assisting search and rescue teams, the EENA has formed a partnership with DJI. This partnership enabled the Dalvik Search & Rescue Team’s operation in Iceland, and it was a DJI drone that helped to find the missing cousins.

DJI Stories – Saved By A Drone

4. Drone Helps Find U.K. Man Flung from Car

In February of 2018, search and rescue personnel working with the Lincolnshire Police in the U.K. used a drone equipped with a thermal camera to find a man who had been thrown from his car after a car accident.

It was 2 in the morning when the drone was put in the air, and the police were desperate to find the missing car crash victim because it was so cold that they worried he might die—either from hypothermia or from bleeding related to the crash—if he wasn’t found quickly.

drones-search-and-rescue

Using a drone, they were able to quickly locate the man in a six-foot-deep ditch near the crash site. Hypothermia was already beginning to set in when the man was found. Upon being found, he was taken to the hospital for treatment and released shortly after.

5. Drone Helps Find Lost Hikers in Colorado

In June of 2017, two hikers were reported missing in Pike National Forest in Colorado.

The local search and rescue team was called to look for them, and more than twenty-five volunteers showed up to help. People looked on foot, with ATVs, and there was also a K-9 team.

But it was the team using a UAV that found the two hikers.

search-and-rescue-drones

Image courtesy of Douglas County Search and Rescue

Using the drone, they were able to find the missing hikers in an area spanning thousands of acres in just two hours. Although the incident took place in the summer, temperatures drop quickly at night in the mountains, and the two hikers would have faced a life-threatening scenario if they had been forced to spend the night in the forest.

Of course, these are only a handful of stories—in April of 2018, DJI released a report highlighting 65 instances of drones being used to save lives in what they call “drone rescues.” Then in August 2018 at the DJI event, “See the Bigger Picture“, they announced that number had continued to increase.

We’ve been keeping track of how many people have been rescued with the help of a drone. We’re at 144 with more being added every month.

— Michael Oldenburg, Product Communication Lead, DJI

And it’s important to note that the use of drones for good isn’t just limited to life-saving scenarios. In fact, the list of ways drones help people is so long that we created a post devoted to detailing 14 inspiring examples of how drones are being used for good throughout the world.

Do you have a drone search and rescue story? Share it with us on this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

Zacc Dukowitz

Contributing Writer

A writer with professional experience in education technology and digital marketing, Zacc Dukowitz is passionate about reporting on the drone industry at a time when UAVs can help us live better lives. Zacc also holds the rank of nidan in Aikido, a Japanese martial art, and is a widely published fiction writer. Zacc has an MFA from the University of Florida and a BA from St. John's College. Follow @zaccdukowitz or check out zaccdukowitz.com to read his work.

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