Drone Technology Used in Rescue


The Montrose Search and Rescue (MSAR) team has another tool of high technology equipment in its arsenal that will help save lives.

Last night, Wednesday, at about 8:20 p.m. MSAR team members responded to the Mt Wilson Road mile marker 1.46 in the Angeles National Forest. They received a call from an informant who found a vehicle parked in the area that was “unusual,” according to Sgt. John Gilbert, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. (LASD)-Crescenta Valley Station.

“The vehicle was unsecured and [personal items] were in the vehicle,” he said.

The vehicle’s keys were also found inside the car, which appeared to be abandoned.

MSAR members began to search the area, which involved a lot of cliff side vegetation. It was not an easy area to hike through.

“We called in [search teams] from San Dimas and Sierra Madre,” Gilbert said.

At 8:30 this morning (Thursday) they were received from the LASD Special Enforcement Unit an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) [drone]. The UAV began its search and at 10:30 a.m. found the victim about 200 feet over the side of the cliff. The male victim was disoriented. MSAR members then called in the LA Sheriff Air Rescue 5 where he was secured by medics and hoisted into the helicopter. The man was transported to a local hospital in moderate condition.

“As far as I know this is the first time a UAV had been used in a live rescue in the Angeles National Forest,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said the team had used drones in the past but had never had any success. He added in those cases the search area was much larger.

“We just never had them in the right spot at the right time. This [time it] worked really well,” he said.

There were a lot of factors that worked together to help find the victim. The first bit of luck was that his vehicle, with the keys left in it, had not been stolen. That luck continued when someone found the vehicle and knew the irregularity of having a deserted vehicle in the area and knew to call someone.

“That was ‘See something, say something’ – that helped,” Gilbert added.

MSAR was able to respond and quickly found information that linked to the victim, who was from Michigan.

“We were able to contact the [victim’s] wife,” he said.

The victim’s wife was in Michigan and hadn’t talked to her husband in two or three days. She didn’t think anything odd about that because she knew he was in LA for business. After MSAR contacted her they were able to get more information about the victim.

“So he had probably been missing for two or three days,” Gilbert said.

He added that the informant, search and rescue teams, UAV and Air 5 all worked together.

“This scenario could have [ended] much worse,” he said.

UAVs are not always readily available, which is something Gilbert hopes will change as the unit is expanded.    

MSAR was the first team to rescue a victim using the iPhone’s new Emergency SOS program, which provides satellite services for emergencies. And now they have successfully used a drone in a live rescue.