The Grand Canyon National Park is currently the site of search and rescue efforts to locate a missing grandmother and her step-grandson. Aiding in the search are five unmanned aerial vehicles or drones in what is their first ever mission.
LouAnn Merrell, 62, and Jackson Standefer, 14, were hiking with relatives when they lost their footing while crossing a creek. The two, who were with Merrell's husband Randy (Merrell Boot Co. co-founder) and Standefer's mother when the incident happened, have been missing since the weekend.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the drones searched for three days starting on Monday but came up empty. Other traditional search and rescue efforts such as the use of a helicopter, a motor boat, and ground search teams continue as family, friends, and supporters continue to hold out hope that the duo will be found safe and sound.
Despite coming out empty-handed on their first mission, the 18 inches wide and 10 inches high drones proved that they can be vital in such situations. DJI, one of the more popular UAV makers around, has reported that drones have been responsible for saving the lives of 59 people since 2013. That figure includes 38 rescued lives within a 42-week period. The drones which aided in the rescue of these people were owned by civilians and volunteers.
The Grand Canyon National Park, meanwhile, owns the five UAVs used in the search for Merrell and Standefer. The said drones are specifically employed for search and rescue missions. According to Mashable, other national parks also own a fleet of drones but utilize them exclusively for research.
With the spotlight on the search and rescue drones, other national parks will likely form their own SAR fleet. Grand Canyon National Park spokesperson James Doyle described drones as "a wonderful tool for the unfortunate situation we just found ourselves in".