Drone Saves 6-Year-Old Lost in Cornfield (That’s Why We Need a Rule on Night Flight)

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It’s a feel-good story for the drone industry and communities everywhere – a local photographer with a drone saved the life of a small boy lost at night in a cornfield with his dog. It’s also a prime example of why a rule standardizing night flight for drones could benefit drone pilots and citizens across the country.

The Washington Post reports that 6-year-old Ethan Haus disappeared in the woods behind his central Minnesota home while walking his dog, Remington.   By 8 pm, when professional photographer and Part 107 pilot Steve Fines saw the Sheriff’s Department tweet, the boy had been missing for four hours.  The temperature was about 30 degrees, and it was dark.

Fines realized immediately that the FLIR thermal camera attached to a professional grade DJI drone that he uses for roofing inspections and to find lost livestock at night could help.  While more than 700 volunteers (from a township with a population of only about 2500) searched the woods, swamps and cornfields, Fines began to fly at around 10 pm; working with the Sheriff’s department rescue operation.

With a few false positives along the way, including otters and other animals, Fines caught sight of what looked like a dog’s head with thermal imagery at about 1:30 am, after volunteers had indicated a general search area after finding a child’s footprint in a cornfield.  Hovering over the area and illuminating the drone, he directed searchers to the spot – where they found Remington, and a shivering Ethan.

It’s another great story of drones doing good, and a happy ending to a terrible day for an entire community as they searched for the missing boy.  DJI’s VP of Policy Brendan Schulman commented on Twitter that it’s also a good example of what can be done with night flight – and why we need a rule.  While the first work on a rule standardizing night flight for drones began several years ago, release is still reportedly at least 2 years away. “That’s a shame,” Tweets Schulman.  “I think there would be hundreds more stories like Ethan’s during this five-year period.”



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