Connecticut Police Use Drone to Locate Missing Blind Man

Police and firefighters used a drone to locate a 62-year-old blind man who had wandered away from home. Officials say the incident marks one of the first times a drone has been used to find a missing person in the area.

by Erika M. Purdy, Journal Inquirer / February 19, 2020
Shutterstock/milestone

(TNS) — With the help of a Vernon police drone, Enfield police and firefighters on Saturday found a 62-year-old blind man who had wandered away from home and spent a cold night in a heavily overgrown area between Enfield Terrace and Interstate 91.

According to Vernon police Sgt. Todd Thiel, who piloted the drone, this was one of the first times that a drone has been used to find a missing person in the area.

Enfield police Lt. Bryan Nolan said a family member reported the man missing at 8:43 a.m. Saturday. Based on the man’s background, it was determined that he probably had become confused and wandered away from home.

Nolan said Enfield police couldn’t release the names of the parties involved because of medical issues.

Through interviews with family members and neighbors, officers determined that the man had been last seen around 10 a.m. Friday, almost 24 hours before he was reported missing, Nolan said.

Hypothermia was a concern in the search because of the extremely cold temperatures overnight and during the day Saturday, Nolan said.

An Enfield officer on the scene called for the use of a drone to help the search. The area of search is thickly grown with brush, making the use of a drone a more efficient approach than an on-ground search, Nolan explained.

“Without a drone, it’s manpower-intensive,” the lieutenant said. “A drone can give you a bird’s eye view and makes searching quicker and easier.”

Thiel said he conducted a “grid pattern search of the wooded area” to find the missing man. In addition to the drone’s regular camera, Thiel used a thermal imaging camera to look for heat sources, which include living humans.

The man was found after 30 minutes of drone searching, at 12:15 p.m., in a wooded area hidden from view about 100 yards from Enfield Terrace. The Enfield Fire Department rescued him from that area.

Thiel said the man was still conscious and talking when firefighters brought him back to the road.

The man said he had been outside for 33 hours and had become disoriented because of medical conditions, Nolan said.

According to an Enfield police report, the man was taken to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.

Thiel said Vernon police have five drones in operation and four officers trained as pilots. The program has been in operation for four years.

Nolan said Enfield police are developing a drone program but didn’t have it in operation by Saturday.

©2020 Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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