A Grand Search-And-Rescue Tool

April 21, 2017
A Grand Search-And-Rescue Tool

By K. Daniel Glover

The National Park Service‚Äôs recent drone search for two missing hikers at the bottom of the Grand Canyon wasn’t successful, but it highlighted the potential value of the park’s drone fleet, the only one like it in the national park system.

Grand Canyon chief ranger Matt Vandzura told the Associated Press that unmanned aircraft give searchers the same close look at hard-to-reach places as helicopters but without the risks. “It has dramatically increased our ability to keep our people safe,” he said.

The news of the search for a 62-year-old woman and her 14-year-old step grandson follows by about a month the release of a report about how drones are being used to save lives. Eight of the rescues occurred in the United States and contributed to the rescues of 14 people.

Grand Canyon National Park has five drones and four FAA-certified operators, according to AP. The drones capture video of the canyon’s rugged terrain for officials to review twice, once as it is recorded and once at the end of the day.

In November, after a visitor drove off a cliff and died, drones were sent in to examine the trees and brush and make sure it was safe for a helicopter to fly in and lift the car out.

The next month, rangers used a drone to locate a woman who had jumped to her death. Then they rappelled down to retrieve the body.

The dangers of flying choppers in the canyon were illustrated in 2003, when a Park Service helicopter experienced a mechanical failure and crash-landed on the North Rim. Those aboard suffered only minor injuries; the helicopter was totaled.

Other national parks use drones, but for wildlife research. The use of private drones is prohibited in national parks.