FARMINGTON – Almost one year ago, Shiprock Search and Rescue learned just how beneficial drones could be, only a little too late. Today, Shiprock Search and Rescue can fly high knowing the group has a search and rescue drone of its own.
Andy Hawkins, community engagement manager for Bisti Fuels Co., said the company first met the Shiprock Search and Rescue team just after the COVID-19 lockdowns started on the Navajo Nation. Yolanda Benally, a community engagement specialist with Bisti Fuels, was contacted on a Sunday night from a “frantic” family whose grandmother lived next to the mine. The family’s grandmother had gone missing.
Because of the lockdowns, family members couldn’t travel to look for her, so they reached out to Benally for help because mine workers had essential worker exemptions. The company agreed and looked for the woman in the dark, in pouring rain for several hours as the temperature dropped into the 20s.
When the sun came up, the family contacted Shiprock Search and Rescue’s Eric Trevizo who joined the search. Trevizo asked if the mine had a drone to help put eyes on areas that were difficult to reach by foot or ATV.
“Unfortunately, that story does not have a happy ending as the grandmother passed away from (hypothermia),” Hawkins said. “However, out of the event we met Eric and were introduced to his group. Over the next several months, we had conversations with Eric about his new group and why they did not have their own drone to assist in searches.”
Trevizo’s team was already interested in acquiring a drone, but it was $10,000, and that was not feasible for the group, even with Trevizo’s previous fundraising efforts. So Bisti Fuels “struck a deal, if he could raise the first $5,000, Bisti Fuels would match that with another $5,000 and purchase the drone for the group,” Hawkins said.
The drone boasts a mounted 8K camera with thermal imaging that can help distinguish between a person and landforms, such as trees and rocks, and can even tell what the object is in thermal imaging mode.
“For example, if a missing child sits down under a bush, the camera can show the thermal image of the child under the bush,” Hawkins said.
The drone comes with three batteries that can last up to 40 minutes of flight time each, allowing the drone to cover a large area in a short amount of time, especially the places that are hard to access by way of foot or ATV. It is also capable of flying a pre-programmed grid.
“This is really a huge jump in capabilities for Shiprock Search and Rescue, and sometime very soon, this drone will find a lost or missing person and save a life,” Hawkins said.
Both sides held up their end of the deal, and Bisti even threw in a full-size iPad to use as the monitor for the pilot.
“As Navajo Transitional Energy Co.’s contract mine operator, we were pleased that we were able to have such a big impact on the local community,” Hawkins said. “We wish Eric great success in his future search and rescue efforts.”