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Eye in the sky view: Gallatin County Sheriff's Search and Rescue drone heads into its first summer

Posted at 10:10 AM, Jul 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-12 12:10:24-04

BOZEMAN - The summer season for Gallatin County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue has been eventful, with a paraglider rescue on the ‘M’ Trail, a biker on Sourdough, and floaters on the Madison.

Capt. Scott Secor reports that, as of July 11, there have been 19 search and rescue missions. A relatively new member of the ‘SAR’ team is their drone.

“We’ve been on nearly every single search and rescue call this summer,” Tyler Brant, the SAR Drone pilot, said. “The fact that we can get the drone in the air and get the process started sooner is huge.”

Brant volunteers for SAR but works as full-time as a Montana Highway Patrol trooper. As a trooper, he has been trained to operate drones for crashes and collisions, making his skills transferable to the SAR team.

The drone was acquired in November 2021, cost $31,494, can withstand 20 mph winds and freezing temperatures, and can travel more than a mile from its launch pad.

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The drone team is readying themselves for their first summer as the ‘eye in the sky’ teammate.

“We can eliminate an area they don’t have to go and search, or double-check an area,” Brant said. “Quickly identify deer and animals, throw out that those are not the subjects we’re looking for, and keep moving.”

With an investment of this size, the drone is used during days with little to no precipitation unless the device is critical to the success of the mission. Brant notes that drone technology is ever-evolving and needs to adapt to the 30+ year established teams of search and rescue.

“Really trying to work together with other search teams within the organization, to better their success,” Brant said. “For example, with the dog team, the dogs are going out and actually tracking scents and looking for this person and we can scan ahead, to look for bears, we can look ahead for where these dog teams are actually going.”

Thermal capabilities allow the drone team to distinguish heat signatures from their surroundings, and further detection can separate an animal from a person in need of a rescue. The drone team will be on the scene with their fellow rescue volunteers, with about three people operating and supporting the drone.

The drone team is readying themselves for their first summer as the ‘eye in the sky’ teammate.