Dispatch Call: Water Rescue
What We Knew Headed to Call: It was reported a woman on a kayak had fallen out of the kayak and could not be seen.
Aircraft: DJI Matrice 210 with Zenmuse XT FLIR and 180X Zenmuse Z30 cameras.
UAS/Drone Actions: Upon arrival the most apparent optimum landing zone was not accessible due to previous fire department equipment already on the scene.
This left an alternative landing zone that had water frontage but was located under trees. The departure would be up and out under the trees and an accelerating climbing straight flightpath to the center of the reservoir for victim reconnaissance.
It took 19 seconds to fly the 2,150 feet to a primary target location. However the located target did not match the dispatched description. What was visualized was a female in an inflatable boat, not a kayak, and who appeared to be dry, and not wet from being in the water.
We quickly checked on the female on the inflatable raft to determine condition and then investigated the remaining reservoir to attempt to locate a victim that more closely represented the description of the 911 caller.
The secondary search took approximately three minutes and with no apparent other targets found on the water we returned to the primary target, descended, and investigated further.
The overwhelming concern was the high power electric transmission cables that crossed the reservoir.
Wake Forest Fire Department Battalion Chief Barrett, acting as a remote visual observer, radioed to alert the pilot to the presence of the wires and from his location standing on the dam he was unable to determine the distance between the drone and the wires. They appeared to be superimposed from his vantage point.
The pilot determined there was sufficient distance between the wires and the UAS and continued the descent to gain a more lateral view of the subject than from above.
All of this can be seen in the video below.
The alleged victim was observed using thermal and visual cameras while holding a safe distance to not alarm or distract the victim with the aircraft.
Some time later the Wake Forest Fire Department boat arrived after being retrieved from its home station.
Firefighters and a paramedic motored out to the victim and communicated with her that she was okay and not in any distress. The victim stated she needed no additional assistance.
The drone then returned to a slightly different landing zone due to the fact the Wake Forest Fire Department drone vehicle had to relocate during flight to allow the fire boat to have access to the boat ramp.
Lessons Learned: Ultimately the mission flight was a success using the department motto of “Adapt and Overcome” to carry out the rescue flight. The department recently concluded training for all firefighters to become trained visual observers to assist the drone pilot during incidents. That training paid off as evidenced by the radio call from Battalion Chief Barrett to warn of the presence of the electric cables.
The drone pilot had a second firefighter with him who handled radio communications and that allowed the pilot to focus on safe and optimum flying.
Given the initial challenge of the alternate landing zone and primary target which did not match the dispatched description, the flight was a success.
Contact the Pilot: You can contact the pilot using the form below.