Search and Rescue Capabilities - KULR-8 Television, Billings, MT

Search and Rescue Capabilities

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Wyoming rescue workers now have a new tool to find people who are lost in mountains and wilderness areas. It's a plane that can see in the dark.

The most remote area in the lower 48 states is found here, near Cody. This is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which draws more than three million visitors every year. They include mountain climbers, back country skiers, snowmobilers, hunters, hikers, and this time of year, ice climbers. If they get in trouble, their cell phones won't work. By the time they're reported missing, it's often night fall.

Park County Search and Rescue and Homeland Coordinator, Mart Knapp said, "And then you're dealing with hypothermia. Hypothermia kills. A lot of times when we get called, we're already behind the eight ball, because people have been missing for six hours or something like that."

The solution is called Forward Looking Infrared, or FLIR. A belly mounted camera on a plane detects thermal radiation, which is the heat put out by a body or a plane engine. FLIR can detect, and even discern between an animal and a human from altitude.

1st Lt. Richard Dennison of Wyoming's Civil Air Patrol dialed in a clear picture of cattle on the ground, as he sat in the plane that flew over the South Fork, "From a thousand feet in the air during the daytime, that's pretty distinguishable as big beef."

FlIR is a first for our region, and only the second in the nation. Dennison explained, "North Dakota has one aircraft with the FLIR system they've had for a few years. We are fortunate enough to be the second wing in the nation in civil air patrol to have that."

Dennison is a volunteer pilot, as are all the flyers in Civil Air Patrol. He says Wyoming has two planes like this one.

He said, "One in Jackson and one based in Casper that allows us to get to any place in Wyoming within an hour."

Park County Sheriff, Scott Steward, says this technology can be the difference between life and death, especially in the winter months.

The Park County Sheriff's Office partnered with the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, Wyoming Military Department, and Civil Air Patrol (CAP) to make FLIR available for aerial Search and Rescue missions here Park County. FLIR is available for missions across the state, and in Montana, if requested.