Nfld. & Labrador

New $80K search-and-rescue drone is off the ground and ready to save lives

Rovers Ground Search and Rescue have added an important piece of equipment to their kit by picking up a drone to help search for lost and missing persons.

Team coordinator says the drone can see up to 75 kilometres away

Rovers Ground Search and Rescue Team Coordinator Harry Blackmore said the money raised for the new UAV only took two months, but was far more expensive than expected. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Rovers Search and Rescue have added an important piece of equipment to their kit — a drone to help them finding lost and missing persons. 

The group began a fundraising effort in June 2018 for their new, top-of-the-line, unmanned aerial vehicle. 

"From my background in the fire service I can see a lot of places this thing can be used, besides just looking for somebody," Harry Blackmore, SAR team coordinator, said Wednesday during a media conference in Paradise. 

"But, it will save us some time. Especially looking for people down over the side of cliffs and everything else, where you can't get out over. Sometimes, as our weather is, you can't get out in boats."

The DJI Matric 210 RTK UAV, or drone, is equipped with two daytime cameras and an infrared camera for night searches, and is designed to fly in typical Newfoundland environments such as areas affected by electrical interference, wet environments, sub-zero temperatures and above-moderate wind speeds.

The drone itself cost more than $80,000, according to Blackmore, but Rovers SAR raised $78,000 in only two months after setting their initial target at $57,000.

The search and rescue group has two Transport Canada-certified pilots in their ranks to operate the drone, with one additional pilot with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and another with the RCMP in Clarenville. The Rovers often team up with police units when called upon to search for a missing person. 

Necessity

Helicopters and droves of volunteers searching for a missing person will often times create a lot of noise, said Blackmore. With the new drone, SAR can quickly and quietly scan an area where they believe someone may be hidden or injured. 

The new Rovers Ground Search and Rescue drone cost $80,000 but has one of the only aerial infrared cameras in the province and can zoom up to 75 kilometres. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"It makes it really good for us, especially when we're looking for runaway people," he said.

"This is nice and quiet, it streams everything back to our command post so we can see exactly what's on the ground."

A $5,000 drone could have been purchased in place of the more expensive unit, but Blackmore said the higher expenditure stems from a situation where SAR was searching for a young person with autism and the search carried into the night.

The cameras were the selling point. There is no other helicopter in the province that has infrared capabilities, Blackmore said, adding that the daytime optical zoom camera can zoom in on Brigus from where Wednesday's demonstration was held in Paradise.

That's just over 75 kilometres in distance. 

Another tool

Rovers SAR stressed that regular helicopters will not be forgotten. The drone is simply an addition to their fleet of vehicles.  

"This is just another tool in our toolbox, and the technology that's with it is what we needed," said Blackmore. 

"The cameras are the big thing."

Members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary get a first look at the Rovers Ground Search and Rescue new drone. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The group will be able to assist other police detachments in other communities, and at the end of the day it's all about saving a life, he said.

"That's what this is all about, to be able to bring someone home safe and sound to their loved one," Blackmore said. 

"Hopefully we don't have to use it, hopefully it's only in practice. But, we know very well that it will happen." 

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With files from Here and Now

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