The Blaine County Search and Rescue team has acquired new technology to assist in efforts to locate missing hikers and outdoor enthusiasts in the mountains in and around the Wood River Valley, Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey said.
A high-altitude drone was recently purchased by the agency with money donated by a local men’s charitable organization after crews saw its effectiveness during its five hours of flight time in a recent effort to locate missing hiker and Hailey resident Luke Richardson, Ramsey said. Richardson’s body was eventually found northeast of Sun Valley.
Ramsey said funds for the drone came from the 100 Men Who Care organization, comprising local men who regularly contribute monetary gifts to local nonprofits, who donated $5,700 to purchase the drone and associated training costs for its two future pilots.
“It is a really great tool to have and allows us to quickly search for a missing person over a large radius without always having to transport ground personnel,” Ramsey said.
The DJI Inspire 1 Pro Zenmuse X5, which sells for roughly $4,500 on its manufacturer’s website, comes with a powerful, high-definition camera that easily shoots aerial footage that can be later analyzed by search-and-rescue crews.
Blaine County Search and Rescue member Michael Leach said he and the agency’s commander, Bryan Carpita, recently gave a presentation to the 100 Men Who Care organization meeting in early October, espousing the benefits of having a drone during rescue and recovery operations.
“With the efficiencies, time saving and manpower saving, I just thought that this would be something worth approaching the 100 Men Who Care,” Leach said.
Leach said during the presentation of the drone to the organization, the immediate reaction of members was extremely positive.
“It allows you to reach places that helicopters can fly over but can’t get much closer to,” he said. “If I had to get three or four men to go up and do a sweep on the hillside, as opposed to a drone that can cover the same area in 15 minutes, I’m going with the drone.”
With a drone in the Blaine County Search and Rescue arsenal, crew members can allocate their resources more efficiently and cover more ground in higher elevations if weather allows.
“This drone we selected is a high-altitude drone and can deal with the conditions up there,” Leach said. “However, if the winds are too strong for a helicopter to fly, the drone can’t either.”
Marty Lyon, founder of the three-year-old 100 Men Who Care group, said the organization usually donates to Blaine County nonprofit groups that serve the Wood River Valley, but was compelled to give to the county to support rescue operations.
He said members of the group meet quarterly and nominate the nonprofits they would like to donate to, eventually voting and selecting one organization to receive financial contributions. He said the Blaine County Search and Rescue donation was chosen because of the emotional appeal involved in its presentation by Leach and Carpita.
“They made a very compelling presentation about how fast the drones are and how that could mean more lives saved,” Lyon said. “We thought about how lucky we all are when we set out on a hike and return home safely and learned how little funding Blaine County Search and Rescue gets from the county.”
Lyon said 57 members of the organization each wrote $100 checks to go toward the purchase of the drone, totaling $5,700.
Ramsey said Blaine County Search and Rescue is extremely grateful for the donation and is asking other Blaine County residents to donate to the agency because its annual fundraiser, the Great Wagon Days Duck Race, ended this year.
Search and rescue services offered by the county, Ramsey said, have never had to be paid for directly out of the pockets of victims and their families, a tradition he intends to continue into the future.
“Searches can be very expensive,” he said. “Even without aircraft, we need fuel, food and supplies to keep our team members functioning at a high level of efficiency.”