Arizona search and rescue groups turning to drone technology

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Rescue teams are using drones to help them during missions. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Rescue teams are using drones to help them during missions. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Sedona Fire District used a drone to help in a swift water rescue on Beaver Creek in Camp Verde. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Sedona Fire District used a drone to help in a swift water rescue on Beaver Creek in Camp Verde. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Tonto Rim Search and Rescue plans to buy more drones to help with their missions. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Tonto Rim Search and Rescue plans to buy more drones to help with their missions. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
GLOBE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

It was a dangerous search mission down a nearly 500-foot cliff, something that members of Tonto Rim Search and Rescue agreed would normally take all day.

The effort to find the body of a man who fell into the Salt River Canyon, however, took only about an hour.

The difference? An unmanned aerial vehicle or drone.

“Prior to having a drone, we would have had to make multiple repels over the edge to check areas that we couldn’t see any other way,” said Sgt. Dennis Newman, the search coordinator for the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.

Not only did the drone’s HD camera help locate the body Jan. 2, numbers on the display gave crews valuable measurements.

“It told us how much rope we needed, what we needed to set up for a haul field,” said Commander Bill Pitterle of Tonto Rim Search and Rescue. “It solved a whole bunch of those things that we've never been able to solve before without the first guy going over and discovering all those things.”

The drone in the Salt River Canyon search was on loan from Oasis Micro IT Business Solutions, but Pitterle says the test was so successful, his group plans to purchase three soon. Tonto Rim Search and Rescue is an all-volunteer organization that collaborates with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. Tonto Rim will cover the roughly $15,000 cost through donations, Pitterle said.

On Jan. 6, Sedona Fire District used a drone to help in a swift water rescue on Beaver Creek in Camp Verde. Video shows crews rescuing three people from an SUV in the water.

A spokesperson for the Phoenix Fire Department confirmed it, too, is considering purchasing drones for use in rescue operations.

An analysis of FAA records shows Arizona ranks 14th among states with the most registered drone owners, putting it ahead of states like California (26th), Texas (36th) and New York (46th). There were 11,409 registered drone owners in Arizona as of May 2016.

The drone used in the Salt River Canyon recovery can travel about 45 miles an hour with no wind, said Aaron White of Oasis Micro. That means it can travel a mile in one minute and 20 seconds.

“They can cover quite a bit of area pretty fast. They help us narrow down the areas that we’re looking in,” said Sgt. Newman.

“We're always looking for ways to do our jobs better, more efficiently. We're in the life-saving business. And that's what these guys are all about.”

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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