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Texas Game Warden’s Search and Rescue Drone Program Achieves Positive Results Statewide

Three recent incidents that required drone assistance from rangers and successful coordination with local law enforcement resulted in an arrest in east Texas and two missing person rescues in Hill Country.

On the night of November 3, Texas Game Warden Michael Hummert responded to a request for assistance from the Erath County Sheriff’s Office. An elderly man had gone missing in Dublin, Texas. As the only police officer in the county equipped with a thermal drone, his services were needed.

“The setting sun prevented us from finding him with the usual means,” said Hummert. “The thermal drone picks up body heat, which is necessary to locate someone at night. With the cold setting in, finding him quickly was imperative.”

Using cell phone records, the sheriff’s office determined a general location for the individual, and Hummert determined a search area. Working from a checkpoint attached to his vehicle, he located the individual through a heat scan and guided MPs to the location.

Just nine days later, federal officials in Bell County asked for assistance in another missing person case. With no other available drone operator in the area, Warden Hummert arrived on site. In this case, the family shared key information about the person’s location, while government support provided robust mapping systems. Here, too, the person was found safe.

Only in his second month in the Texas Game Warden Unmanned Arial System Program (UASP) has Hummert seen firsthand the benefits his skills and equipment bring to his community.

“Success really depends on having the right equipment. A helicopter is extremely useful for any search and rescue, but it’s not always practical in rural areas. Responding with a drone reduces your response time and costs, and allows for more versatility. I respond to everything from car accidents to bomb threats.”

Meanwhile, further east, Hummert’s drone teammate, Texas Game Warden Doug Williams, received a request for assistance in locating a suspect who shot and physically assaulted two people and then fled. Using another thermal drone, Williams circled the residence and spotted a thermal signature in the forest.

Due to the freezing temperatures, the suspect hid in the undergrowth, curled up in a fetal position. He was arrested and later treated for hypothermia.

“Strengthening our department with the drone program in conjunction with Gear Up for Game Wardens donations is creating a lifeline where there was none,” said UASP Supervisor Lt. Matthew Bridgefarmer. “Game warden drone operators arrive on site first to locate lost boaters and hikers. We look for natural disasters. Ultimately, this program saves lives.”

SOURCE: TPWD


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