A Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) – more commonly known as a drone – recently acquired by Lincoln County, proved its worth in helping emergency responders quickly find a missing hunter Wednesday evening. The hunter, William Storm, 76, was found deceased on his property in the town of Pine River, about two hours after he was reported missing.
“With the use of the UAV, we were able to save the family from the anguish of countless hours of wondering where their loved one was,” said Lincoln County Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Fischer. “We also saved countless man hours and the deployment of equipment.
“Although were were not fortunate that this was a life-saving event, we do consider its application a success,” Fischer added.
During the fall of 2016, the Lincoln County Sheriff and Lincoln County Emergency Management Director secured a grant for the purchase of the UAV, equipped with a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) thermal imaging camera. Operated by Lt. Andy VanDerWyst, the drone saw its first action Wednesday night.
Sheriff’s Office personnel were trained on the use of the drone last month. Just the day before, VanDerWyst had spent some additional time with the technician who prepared the drone to learn more about its functions and capabilities.
“I’m really glad I did because I got it set up faster and knew what I was doing,” he said.
VanDerWyst got the UAV in the air about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday night. Ground searchers had already located the deer that Storm had been tracking, which gave VanDerWyst a general area to search.
sing the FLIR camera on the UAV at about 160 feet overhead, VanDerWyst located Storm’s body about 6 p.m. and ground searchers recovered the body at the edge of the Pine River at 6:15 p.m.
The UAV is a commercial drone, available to the public in its stock form. Some modifications have been made, including installation of the FLIR camera, for its use in law enforcement. The UAV will be a valuable tool not only for search and rescue incidents, but for photographing crash scenes and crime scenes, VanDerWyst said.
The UAV can be used when helicopters cannot, VanDerWyst noted. The weather Wednesday night, in fact, wasn’t conducive to putting a helicopter in the air.
“There was heavy cloud cover and a light mist,” he said. “We requested one of the medical helicopters from Wausau, but they couldn’t fly because of the weather.”
The UAV can be used in inclement, although not severe, weather.
“There are environmental factors that come into play with this, but not near as much as a full size helicopter because now you’re talking about a bigger piece of equipment with human lives on board.”
Under ideal conditions, the UAV can stay in their air for about 20 minutes on one battery charge. With the weather Wednesday night, the limit was about 14 minutes. The county has multiple battery packs to get the drone back in the air quickly. On Wednesday night, VanDerWyst had just swapped in a third fresh battery when Storm was located.