Police reveal how drones are helping to save lives after rescue of man freezing to death in Crowland

A man who crashed his car into a garden fence was later found freezing to death in a field thanks to a police drone, leading to his rescue.

Thursday, 5th December 2019, 5:00 am

The man was driving along West Bank, Crowland, on Friday evening when he was involved in a single vehicle crash.

He later stumbled in the direction of the town centre before being located in the middle of a field in the pitch black, unconscious and suffering from hypothermia.

He had been in the field for a long period of time when he was located thanks to thermal imaging from the drone, which meant urgent treatment could quickly be administered.

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Lincolnshire Police using a drone

The dramatic rescue is just the latest example of how drones are making a huge difference to local policing, despite the devices having an indifferent reputation due to infamous incidents such as the Gatwick Airport shutdown.

But as Special Sergeant Kevin Taylor, chief pilot for the Lincolnshire Police Drone Unit, told the Peterborough Telegraph: “People are alive today because of the cameras.”

Lincolnshire Police set up a dedicated drone unit in March 2017 which became operational six months later after being approved by the Civil Aviation Authority. “Two years ago we put £30,000 into this as a trial and it’s been extremely successful,” said Special Sergeant Taylor.

Footage from Lincolnshire Police from the drone

Expanding on the incident in Crowland, he added: “The chap wandered off after the accident. The expectation was that he had left the scene and probably been given a lift off a friend.
“As a precautionary measure we sent a search team out in case he had tried to head off and did not make it.
“We sent the drone out and the operator found a heat source half a mile away. We were then able to go to the scene and treat him.
“Nine times out of 10 a search is fruitless, but when a life is saved it makes it worthwhile.”

The use of drones has dramatically altered how the force conducts search and rescue operations. A further example given is of an Alzheimer’s patient who was located in a field, while a device was sent up on Tuesday evening to try and locate a 15-year-old from Stamford who had gone missing.

Lincolnshire Police currently has two drone teams of five people - one based in Lincoln and one in Boston.

The pilots are officers who also carry out normal policing duties but are trained to fly the drones when required.
Special Sergeant Taylor added: “We send up a drone pretty much every day. We’re a very open and rural county and officers on the ground are spread very thinly.

“It’s a unique challenge for a rural force so the drone helps us cover large, open grounds in a shorter time.

“Top of the list is search and rescue. Use of the police helicopter has been reduced - we will always use it but we can get a drone there faster and it allows us to get daylight and thermal imaging cameras in the air quickly. They are very interchangeable. In the UK you are required to keep drones in your line of sight but there are exemptions for scenarios such as this where a life is in danger.

“We take the drone to the scene and a pilot will be operating the camera and looking at the footage. For search and rescue it comes into its own and allows us to be able to search large areas very quickly, especially coastal areas.”

A police spokesman said the man, had “sustained a minor injury” and the officers were personally thanked for their assistance”.

Factfile

The Lincolnshire Police Drone Unit was set up in March 2017 and became active in September that year once it was approved by the Civil Aviation Authority.

There are two teams – one based in Lincoln and one in Boston with five people on each team.

Officers carry out regular policing duties but are brought in when required to fly the drones.

They are all trained to commercial standard. They receive five days of initial training and have to pass theory and practical exams before being qualified to use the drones.

They will then receive specialist training such as search and rescue.

The force has spent £30,000 on its drone teams – £16,000 of which was on thermal imaging cameras.