Sun Peaks rescue first time in B.C. drones used to find missing people

Kamloops Search and Rescue members used drones to fine missing skiers on Monday night in what the group says is a first.

  • Feb. 21, 2017 2:00 p.m.
Kamloops Search & Rescue found seven people using a drone.

Kamloops Search & Rescue found seven people using a drone.

By Cam Fortens, Kamloops This Week

Kamloops Search and Rescue members used drones to fine missing skiers on Monday night in what the group says is a first.

“It’s a historic search,” said Alan Hobler, search manager for Kamloops Search and Rescue. “It’s the first documented case of a search and rescue in B.C. finding someone with drones.”

The unmanned aerial vehicles were operated by Kamloops firm Hummingbird Drones, which contracts for uses, including firefighting surveillance.

Hobler said his group received a report at about 6:30 p.m. Monday for a report of two missing snowboarders who went out of bounds. Ski patrol noticed five additional ski tracks that crossed the same boundary.

“They saw the snowboard tracks and they figured, ‘If we follow them, they must know where they’re going,'” Hobler said.

The five skiers were members of one family. They eventually split into two groups, with the teens forging ahead, but getting no closer to escaping the Henderson Creek area.

Search and rescue dispatched backcountry skiers and avalanche technicians, while the drones were operated from a base camp.

The drones found four people and rescuers on skis located the other three lost snowboarders. The seven people were found in three separate groups.

Hobler said lost skiers or snowboarders are typically given snowshoes so they can walk out, in this case the walk being a hike of about one kilometre. The area funnels skiers into the creek, into which they typically wade in an effort to get out. This can quickly lead to hypothermia.

“Thankfully it was warm,” Hobler said.

All seven people are believed to be tourists.

Hobler acknowledged the principle of cost to taxpayers comes up in searches, particularly in cases where recreational skiers and snowboarders knowingly go out of bounds. But he said search and rescue does not advocate charging for searches because people may be less likely to report immediately, causing a delay.

“People will wait to call until it’s too late,” he said.

Giles Shearing, a manager with Revelstoke Search & Rescue, said only Kamloops and Coquitlam SAR groups had permission from Emergency Management BC to use drones.

“I have been in contact with a fellow from Seattle Mountain Rescue about helping them pilot some drone concepts next winter but nothing firmed up,” he wrote in an e-mail. :For now our helicopters and sleds will do the job just fine.”

With a note from Alex Cooper, Revelstoke Review