SWARM Stories

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The following is the information on which I also sent above as a doc file – On January 19th, 2019 Cheryl Copithorne McBee went missing in the Redding area near Mount Lassen in California. Search and Rescue were immediately notified and began a search with official SAR foot teams, mountain bikes, quads, horse back and on foot. Cheryl’s clothes, shoes keys and wallet were found but Cheryl was not found. At first it appeared that she may have been suffering from an emotional disturbance as bare footsteps were found in the mud tracking a mile or so into the forest. After a few days we were contacted by the family and asked if we would fly our drones in the search however the official SAR team thanked us but said they did not want our help. After ten days the official SAR teams ceased the search and we were then invited by the family to bring our two drones in and cover the massive wooded area as best as we could, this we did on two separate occasions within a week. Unfortunately, and very sadly, no one to date has been able to find Cheryl and a detective has now been assigned to the case.

At this point, we don’t even know if Cheryl is in the area which was extensively searched. I wanted to take a couple of minutes to thank the SWARM and the Wings of Mercy UAS SAR teams for their amazingly kind and professional help as we set out on our first SAR mission with our two drones, neither of which had mapping capabilities. It was a very difficult, remote area to fly in and we kept losing contact between our controller and the aircraft. We did the best we could and at the end of both missions, we uploaded the images to the group at SWARM and Wings of Mercy. Shane kicked right in with his software and began scanning while the rest of us eyeballed the photos meticulously. Members of both SWARM and Wings of Mercy joined in the online search and sent over any clues they could find. The huge difficulty we were faced with was that the clothes were found so we had absolutely no identifying factors such as color to look for when scanning. Searching for a naked human form in a wooded area with downed trees and logs left a whole lot up to the imagination of those scanning and the software came up with too many false negatives because Caucasian skin is the exact same color as bleached logs.

So, what did we learn from this experience? First of all, we were assured by the family that it was a great comfort to them to have us on location actively searching. They were very impressed with all of the technology available which could scan the area much more effectively than a helicopter could unaided without cameras and a multitude of scanners as we had. Even though we did not find Cheryl the family found much comfort in knowing they had tried everything they knew how, and the team effort and volunteers gave a sense of community in an impossibly difficult time. I personally was amazed at the professionalism and teamwork that was so abundantly offered to us, free of charge and with enthusiasm and love. Both SWARM and Wings of Mercy Team members were only ever a message away from me and worked tirelessly into the early hours of the morning on both missions searching and scanning every single inch of the 700 or so photos we shot.

My “take away” from it all was an immense respect for both the UAS SAR members involved and the technology now available to pinpoint with accuracy the exact GPS location of every possible sighting even though we gave them no indicators of where the photos were shot. The flight maps created by Shane from Wings of Mercy were an incredible help to us and enabled us to improve our flight patterns for the second mission by 100 percent! Lastly, I can not say enough about how impressed I am by the commitment and group support that flooded our hearts and gave us a “home” to ask for help in the search. I wish I could say that we found Cheryl, or that anyone had found her but so far in this case we cannot.

Was the UAS SAR a failure? Certainly not! First of all, you cannot find someone that may not even be there and secondly, we were able to provide much comfort and love to a family that was suffering incompressible pain. The online support and the many people that jumped in and began scanning the images from all over the globe were absolutely amazing! We helped a family that needed our help and we put our arms around them from many counties in the world, that in itself would send me back out looking a thousand times over! Thank you so very, very much SWARM and Wings of Mercy! You provide an invaluable service, free of charge, and with great professionalism which is above and beyond amazing! We are most grateful for your back up and support!

Nancy Hamilton

UAS Part 107 Pilot.

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