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Wake Forest Fire Department UAS Search and Rescue Flight Debriefing

Around 3:30 on 1-29-2018 Wake Forest Fire Department drone was requested to participate in the search for a missing Rocky Mount resident, Stephen Miller (70) who was last seen two days prior on Saturday according to the WRAL online story.

Chief Ed Barrett and drone pilot Steve Rhode arrived in Rocky Mount at approximately 4:40 PM at the search location marked LZ1 on the map below.

Landing zone locations for DJI Matrice 210 search and rescue flight.

It was lightly raining, overcast and approximately 42 F when flights began and 38 F when flight operations were terminated. The first flight began from the point the victim’s truck was found in the Tar River and was conducted downstream.

At 849 feet from the Landing Zone (LZ1) a light blue object was spotted along the opposite river bank. A Rocky Mount Fire Department Engine was called out to walk that side of the river and attempt to locate the object in the water. The Engine crew was unable to locate the object.

The victim’s nephew, who was on the scene, relayed information that his uncle may have been wearing gray or blue clothing.

Below is a picture of the object spotted.

The object was observed from the following flight position.

Upon returning to LZ1 batteries were exchanged and a thermal search was conducted up the river against the current. The area along the river was examined for any thermal signatures.

The following target was identified and Chief Barrett and a Rocky Mount police officer drove up to near where the GPS location was identified and conducted a search.

Chief Barrett was unable to locate the heat signature but did surprise some animal that he described as “approximately the size of a seal.” A bear or a wild boar maybe?

The thermal signature was approximately 1,850 feet from LZ1 and was at the edge of the radio reception range.

The LZ was relocated to LZ2 and a second flight was attempted of the thermal target. By this time it was dark out and it was decided to end flight operations since the visual camera could no longer assist in identifying the target.

Flight conditions deteriorated substantially during the operation and periods of high winds made flight operations difficult. In conjunction with the rain and increasing darkness the risk of continuing flight operations was not warranted.

About Steve Rhode

Steve is an experienced and certificated UAS pilot and aircraft instrument rated pilot. He is also the Chief Pilot with the Wake Forest Fire Department.
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