DD in Search and Rescue/Recovery

Its been less than a week after I assisted with a search and recovery of a vitcim that fell through the ice here in our area. I was dispatch to do a first flight with a thermal of the victim during the night with no luck. Windy conditions made if very difficult to fly. The next day, I spent the first 20 mintues flying searching for the victim and with no signs of anything. With no luck and not knowing how fast ice and windy conditions and snow can change a lake, and having a few Facebook photos from the victims facebook page of him on the lake, I dicided to map out the lake and use DD at 150ft. Just for a few reasons.
1, we can go back and study at the station and set up a plan of how and where to continue our ground search.
2 we can watch the changes of the lake and maybe see something. Honestly by this time and our weather, this has turned into a recovery operation. We were getting our Ice rescue dive team ready, but still had no idea where to even start. All we had was a FB picture from the victim.
So, I flew a DD map on Monday.

Couldn’t fly nothing Tuesday, but did a ground search based alittle bit off the map that I flew on Monday, but couldn’t get out on the ice because the ice wasn’t safe.

On Wednesday, the Sun was out and snow was blown off and the ice was clear. Went out and decided to fly the same DD map flight mission and with in 15 minutes, we located the victim. The victim was 3” under the ice in about 25 foot of water in a channel of the lake. Must of fallen through some thin ice Sunday afternoon and no one knew till he didn’t show up back home. The othe thing that DD did for us as a Department was it sort of gave us some answers of maybe how the victim got there. That picture that he last posted on his FB page, using DD, I can tell you we found the victim 28 ft from that location where that picture was taken.

DD was a huge part of bring victim home to his family. Being a 107 pilot who has flown on stuff like this, the fact that I can set up a map and keep flying that over and over and seeing the changes on a scene like this is huge. In a matter of 4 days, this lake changed so much. As a Search and Rescue/Recovery 107 Drone Pilot, DD is a must for stuff like this. Monday when I was flying on my first search flight, I am setting up waypoints of open water that I was seeing. By the time Monday afternoon came around all those open water spots were frozen back shut. When I mapped that out Monday, I had all those open water spots marked and measured out from the closest shore. That gave our rescue divers something to plan for as far as what equipment they needed or how much more equipment they needed to bring.

Just thought I would share with you how we use DD on this. Great program to use for this. If anyone has questions on how I used this for this scene, ask away. I will answer the best that I can. I am still learning the program everyday.


That’s amazing! Thank you for sharing. Such a horrible event, but at least the family will have some closure soon rather than much later.

Thanks for that great info.

However, to help my team more, please supply some more detailed info such as; What type of drone? DJI? Matrice? Inspire? Mavic?
How was the battery life? How large (acres) was the lake? Did you fly and map the entire lake?
How did the ice affect the ability to map the lake? (I know there is difficulty mapping over clear water).
Did you have your downward obstacle avoidance turned off?

I would also appreciate any lessons learned, as we are in the Northeast and encounter similar conditions. Any helpful hints would be greatly appreciated.

Excellent questions, I wasn’t to sure on how much info to post. So I was just going to let people ask.
So, as far as the Mapping process, I used my Phantom 4 advance at 160ft with 75% front over lap and 75% side over lap.
The lake is very big. We had is somewhat narrowed down to a portion of the lake and was going to put 100% effort in the furthest North open water spot that I found Sunday night and work back towards the “Log” that was in the victims picture. Couldn’t do that at night, but first thing I did was do that Monday.
You can see by the photo that its a very big lake. So a scene like this at night is very difficult.


Here is my map looks like and what the “Ice Shelf” looks like. You can see the “Ice Shelf” pretty clear from the air. Now I can tell you, the “Ice Shelf” was hard to see at ground level if you didn’t know what you were looking at. What we call the “Ice Shelf” is where two thickness of ice meet. One portion of ice is 10 to 12” thick while the other side is about 2” thick. When you have blowing snow across the ice, you can’t see the “Ice Shelf”.

The Yellow marker is where the victim was found. The furthest purple marker was the first hole I searched on Sunday night. The blue lines lead to where the “Face Book” picture was taken.

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The battery life was just fine. I flew the map with one battery. I was using live feed and once I saw the victim/ or what I thought was a very good sign of what it could be the victim. I let the drone finish the map and had it come back to me. I landed and put in a new battery and went back out to confirm and it was.
I map water and river/ moving water with DD all the time with no problems. Now, I alway map up in the air. I see no point flying this map below 160 to 150 feet. I was looking for spots of where the victim could of went through the ice. I wasn’t looking for the victim through the ice with DD. There is no way, you could map this lake at a low height and than start to look for signs. Those signs you are looking for, you will see high. I wont post on here, but if you are part of a Fire Department and part of a Search and Recuse team and would like to see my file photos, I will let you make contact with me. I can tell you, at 160 ft and through the ice, I could see the victim. Now with that said, give our weather 24 hours and conditions were bad again.

Hope this answers some of your questions. If not, ask away.

Thanks! These are very helpful. I assume the “middle” of the lake is open water. Or, is that the second ice shelf you mentioned?

I will use these shots for our team training next Tuesday - it is a real use or the drones - not just practice flights. Our team will learn a lot from these!

My email is Djanelle@manchesterct.gov

Thank you very much!

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That is the “Ice Shelf. The darker stuff, the stuff I am assuming what you think is open water is Ice. The whole lake is frozen.