Students Research Drones for Search and Rescue Missions

While summiting Broad Peak in the Karakoram mountain range of northeastern Pakistan, a mountaineer was separated from his climbing partner. The search party tasked with retrieving him faced the challenge of traversing a vast and difficult terrain at perilously high altitudes. However, unlike most search and rescue missions, the search party deployed a commercial drone to assist in their efforts. The drone’s real-time imagery and global positioning system capabilities greatly reduced the time in which the mountaineer was found and decreased the number of challenges the search party would have otherwise faced.

Jake McRae, OMS II, with his daughter during a presentation of his drone research.

The Broad Peak rescue mission interested Jake McRae, OMS II, as he had been exploring the potential applications for unmanned aircraft systems in search and rescue missions. Based on interviews with the search party, drone pilot, and mountaineer, SD McRae co-authored “Using an Unmanned Aircraft System (Drone) to Conduct a Complex High-Altitude Search and Rescue Operation: A Case Study,” with Christopher Gay, OMS III; Brandon Nielsen, OMS III; Andrew Hunt, OMS III; and Andrew Nigh, MD, Assistant Professor of Specialty Medicine. Their research was published in the Journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine and presented at the 11th World Congress on Mountain Medicine International Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal.

SD McRae was initially inspired to explore research into drone technology during his time with the Washington County Search and Rescue Team. After evaluating several missions and determining loss of life could have been prevented with the use of this technology, he developed and implemented a drone program that is now used in several capacities, including search and rescue, supply delivery, and restoration of radio communications. Currently, SD McRae has several ongoing research projects that will expand upon the applications of drone technology in emergency medical situations.

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