Eyes in the sky: Drone helps in rescue mission - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Eyes in the sky: Drone helps in rescue mission

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An Eastern Iowa rescue crew used a drone to save six people lost out on the water. The Decorah Fire Department has used their drone as a vital tool in twelve different rescue missions within the past year. 

Around 7 p.m. Sunday night, authorities received a call from a group asking for help after getting lost along the Yellow River. The Allamakee County Sheriff's office, state DNR, Iowa State Patrol, Harpers Ferry Fire and Rescue, as well as the Decorah Fire Department all responded.

Allamakee County Emergency Management Coordinator Cory Snitker says the Decorah Fire Department was brought into to assist in the search using their drone. 

The drone has become a vital tool for the department, especially when running against the clock. 

When responding to rescue missions, first responders are fighting a number of obstacles. The department's drone has worked to their advantage, allowing them to save time, and work around obstacles, one of which is seeing in the dark. 

Volunteer Decorah firefighter and pilot behind the drone Zach Kerndt says they most recently used the drone to help rescue six people who went missing along the Yellow river just around dusk. 

 "Having another eye in the sky- a view that we've never seen before," said Kerndt. "We were able to actually drop a radio to the victims that were out there and so we were able to communicate with them."  

Time is of the essence for first responders, and so is their vantage point, which is why the department's drone has become an invaluable resource. 

Using a thermal imaging camera attached to the drone, they were able to navigate and pinpoint exactly where the victims were along the river in the dark.

Snitker says the other obstacle responders were facing during the rescue was the vegetation near the river.

"It's in the Effigy Mounds area so there's a lot of heavy trees, ground vegetation," said Snitker. "A lot of ground down there is not farmed so again you have a lot of woods, forest area obviously, so you have to move slowly with UTV through that area in order to reach the river itself."

By using the drone, crews were able to track down the lost group along the Yellow River within just ten minutes. After dropping a radio to the lost group, crews learned there were three more people missing just down the river. 

"Without the drone, the only way we probably could've looked for these people would be a boat on the river," said Snitker. "We would have found a location to start looking for them, and working our way either upstream or downstream and hope that they were along the river at the time and that you can locate them."

The department says the drone has given them a unique vantage point, a crucial factor in rescue missions. 

"Now when we get that location, we can get the drone up and fly the river from a bridge or a road that has enough space to take off from and we can find people a lot easier," said Kerndt. "We've been able to drop notes to people, last night we were able to drop radio to them, so it's been a great asset and time saver to find people and then from there tell people where to go."   

Sunday's rescue mission is the first time the Allamakee County Sheriffs office employed the use of Decorah's drone in a rescue mission. 

Decorah's fire department is made up entirely of volunteers, and the money from the drone came from fundraising efforts. 

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