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Drones are changing search and rescue operations in Weber County 

Mar 22, 2022, 6:44 PM | Updated: Jun 18, 2022, 8:56 pm

WEBER COUNTY, Utah — New technology is making rescues faster and safer in Weber County, and a recent rescue at North Fork Park proved it.

Drone manufacturer DJI let deputies try out their newest rescue models and they said the technology took out nearly all of the guesswork.

Having a bird’s-eye view is important in a search and rescue but adding infrared vision can be life-changing.

“Within 10 minutes of being on scene, that person knows he’s been found,” said Lt. Mark Horton, who is on the Weber County Search and Rescue Team. “He’s just got to wait now for the rescue teams to get him.”

Horton said that’s what happened during a recent search after a snowboarder became stranded.

The cutting-edge drone was able to put a spotlight on the man and it showed rescuers where to go.

“I had eyes on our patient and good solid coordinates before our teams even left the parking lot,” explained Kyle Nordfords, who was behind the controls that night.

A tech demonstrates the infrared capabilities of a drone. (Weber County Search and Rescue) A closer look a drone and controller. (Weber County Search and Rescue) The drone can transmit live pictures of the rescue operation. (Weber County Search and Rescue) The drone can transmit live pictures of the rescue operation. (Weber County Search and Rescue) Base camp for a recent rescue. (KSL TV)

He said they had a general location from a single cellphone call before the snowboarder lost his signal.

“It was great for him to be able to look up, see the drone, and know that he was found,” Nordfords said.

Getting out proved to be a challenge too since it wasn’t safe to go back up the mountain.

The drone helped map out an escape path.

“With the drone’s help, that course out was sent to everybody’s phones and they knew exactly how, the safest way to get off the mountain without getting into more trouble,” Horton said.

They said this type of technology has changed the game when it comes to search and rescue.

This operation would normally take about eight hours but they said it lasted only half that.

“It just makes the rescue so much faster and safer for everybody involved, from our patient to also our heroes, our rescuers on the ground,” Horton added.

Nordfords said that’s important because while the technology is impressive, it’s as always the many volunteer search and rescue team members that make all of this possible.

He added, “The guys that are out there braving the elements and putting their own lives in danger to be able to rescue these people.”

With those newer drones, the type Weber County now has, Horton said they’re able to send a streaming broadcast of the search back to the sheriff’s office and rescuers’ phones so they can see what’s happening and plan for the terrain.

KSL 5 TV Live

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Drones are changing search and rescue operations in Weber County