Integrating Aerial Photography in Search and Rescue

During the search and rescue effort in which I played a (very small) role, it occurred to me that it would have been nice to use aerial photography in the search.

Our group had aircraft available, but in the end ground teams found the vehicle. There are several obvious limitations to searching by eye out of an aircraft window. You can look away. You can fail to see something subtle. You can sneeze at just the wrong moment.

Far better would be to borrow a plan (or a drone) with aerial photography capabilities. Then the idea is to fly quickly in a grid pattern, snapping detailed photos of the ground as you go.

Once these photos are taken, they could be uploaded to the internet (as a friend of mine suggested), where dozens (or thousands) of eyes could pour over them. (Alternately, they could be subject to digital processing.) What one person working alone might miss, one of a hundred might spot.

Our landscape was perfect for such aerial photography. The land was relatively barren, with stumpy desert trees. The weather was mostly perfect, with clear skies. Obviously in a dense forest or in fog the idea wouldn’t work.

My understanding is that there are quite a number of planes throughout the country already equipped with aerial photography. It would be fantastic if one of these planes could be easily rented (or borrowed) in search and rescue efforts.

In our case, it turned out, the delay didn’t matter (to the missing persons). But in other cases, rapid discovery could mean the difference between life and death.