A police drone pilot involved in locating a missing elderly Norfolk man who was trapped in mud has expressed his desire that officers will one day have the power to scramble a UAV to any incident within 20 minutes.
Sergeant Danny Leach made national headlines earlier this week after Norfolk Police deployed a UAV to search for 75-year-old Peter Pugh, after his family raised the alarm when he did not return home from a walk.
Sgt Leach, who was flying a DJI Inspire I, spotted Mr Pugh stuck in a dense reed beds and marshland and was credited with saving his life.
He told Commercial Drone Professional that the success of the mission underscored the importance of drone technology in emergency operations and outlined his hopes that future investments will mean drones will be able to reach remote locations in incredibly quick times.
He said: “I would like to see that there is the capability to be able to get a drone to any incident in a big county like this within 20 minutes. That would be a case of a dedicated unit, that would be ideal as they would have the experience that could be deployed anywhere 24/7, but most likely it would be that we have hubs across the county where you’ll have a drone in a central location and you’ll have a number of trained pilots.”
In the incident involving Mr Pugh, Norfolk police was assisted by HM Coastguard, RNLI Hunstanton and RNLI Wells Lifeboat and Norfolk Lowland and Search Service.
Sgt Leach said the DJI drone proved to be a valuable tool in the mission as the conditions of the woodland area, which homes a variety of wild animals, coupled with Mr Pugh being partially immersed in water, meant that thermal imaging conducted by the helicopter crews was unable to distinguish him.
“When we did find the person, only his head and shoulders were showing above water level and he had lost a lot of heat. On the thermal camera he probably wouldn’t have come up more than a dot and because it’s a huge nature reserve there was just loads of wildlife in the reeds,” said Sgt Leach, whose force has been using drones for four years.
Sergeant Alex Bucher, who helped co-ordinate the search operation, added: “This is a great example of multi-agency working at its best and through our teamwork we were able to successfully locate Peter and return him back to his family on Father’s Day.
“There is no doubt that without the police drone we would not have been able to locate him in the time we did. The police drone allows us to search areas that are difficult to access and within close range where a helicopter may not be able to get.
“Approximately 50 people were directly involved with this search operation and it was through their dedication and hard work we were able to save this man’s life.”