GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT)-- Mesa County Search and Rescue spent months fundraising and thanks to you the community it's now become a reality.
The program director for the new ‘UAV team’ (unmanned aerial vehicle) is no stranger to drones. Robert Danson used to operate fixed-wing man portal UAVs in the Marine Corps. The team of six has to be on standby 24/7.
"The biggest part is finding who is where and what their condition is and this will boost our capability of finding them and determining what the situation actually is,” said Rob Danson.
The team can do just about any rescue. Using dogs, helicopters, ropes, and now this drone. However, not anyone can just start flying.
"You have to get a remote pilots certification from the FAA which involves taking [a] pretty extensive test,” said Danson.
They can attach different cameras to the drone including thermal and night vision. It can fly over five miles away and reach up 50 miles per hour.
"We can fly around and identify threats… so we could in the future strap a water bottle to it and drop it to someone before field teams could actually get to them…sometimes it can take us a couple of hours to get out to some of these places so we can just have a much higher tempo and find who we are looking for a lot faster,” said Danson.
The drone and computer system was made possible thanks to the community. It cost a total of $32,000. The teams rely solely on donations.
"This is a capability that was given to us by the community essentially through donations that are absolutely critical and without them we wouldn't be able to do anything that we do."
Mesa County search and rescue has on average 55 to 60 missions each year, sometimes multiple rescues in one day. They hope this drone will save time and hopefully lives.
"It’s very important that during searches that not only do you find the person or the person you are looking for but it’s just as good to know where they are not so there are places that we have missions very frequently where there are common areas where people get lost or injured in where we can actually send this out ahead of field teams and actually search the area before they even have to get out there,” said Danson.
They say it’s safer to use the drone to find missing people rather than using a helicopter because it can navigate tight spaces and quickly. The drone can travel in up to 25 mile per hour winds and carry 16 pounds.