Giles County Rescue uses drone to save stranded hiker

By Alison Wickline - Reporter

GILES COUNTY, Va. - A drone guided Giles County Emergency Medical Services agencies through the woods Monday night to save the life of a stranded Appalachian Trail hiker from St. Louis.

"There's four green lights and two red lights on the front of the drone, and we used that to guide our group up to the actual person himself," said Bill Davis, captain of the Giles County Rescue.

After receiving a call from the hiker's daughter, Davis got all hands on deck. The first responders had GPS coordinates from the hiker's phone, but in Big Stony Creek, those coordinates simply weren't enough. So, under a blanket of fog and darkness, the drone, which is owned by Celanese, took flight.

Using a special thermal imaging camera called FLIR, the drone pointed rescuers in the right direction. 

"Once the drone was up in the air, within five minutes we had pinpointed where he was," Davis said.

The Celanese plant originally purchased the drone to use for building inspections, but they also opened it up to local EMS agencies if needed. In this case, it was lifesaving.

"We mixed old school and new school, and we saved a man's life because of it," Davis said.

As far as Davis knows, only one other drone in the state, located in York County, has the special FLIR capability that allows for thermal imaging.

A piece of technology is proving that in today's world of search and rescue, the sky really is the limit.

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