Paul Keam may not have earned his wings, but he’s logged his share of air time working with Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Shuswap Station #106.
For about a year-and-a-half, Keam has been piloting drones for the local, non-profit, volunteer rescue organization. The group’s aerial arsenal includes a DJI Phantom II Vision Plus quadcopter, and the more substantial DJI Inspire. Keam wasn’t involved in the purchase – he was just the one tagged to be RCMSAR’s drone pilot.
“I didn’t get involved until they already purchased it, and then my neighbour Pat Gau came over one day and said, ‘here, learn how to fly this thing; we’re going to use it as a search and rescue tool,’” said Keam.
Over time it was learned the drones would be ideal for shore and shallow water searches, and Keam says the purchases – made possible largely through grants and donations – has proven their worth. Off the top of his head, Keam noted two incidents where the drones played an important role in a search/rescue effort. One involved a swimmer who had gone missing off the back of a houseboat.
“I did a shore shallow water search and the boat did the deep water search in a grid pattern, and we both basically worked in towards each other and then had a good idea where this person was,” said Keam. “Then the RCMP dive team came in and, in about two minutes, they found him.”
The other incident involved a young women who went missing from a houseboat. She was located on land by drone.
“She had just wandered off into the bush about 20 feet and fallen behind a log…,” said Keam. “So it’s been two good searches. You might say it’s paid for itself already.”
Shuswap Station’s drones have also attracted the attention of other groups keen to utilize Keam’s expertise for other emergencies. These include the local snowmobile club, for when a sledder goes missing, or geo-technicians wishing to do some surveying.
“They approached us at the safety fair saying, “gee, that big slide we had at Two Mile, we could have sent you folks up instead of waiting the two-and-a-half days for us to get there and look at it. We could have streamed live feed to them,” said Keam. “CP Rail, they approached us, and we couldn’t figure out why at first, but they said for derailments between Chase and Revelstoke. Instead of loading up all their equipment and heading out to this derailment, if we can get out there, we can put the drone up, video the derailment and live-feed it right back to CP Rail… that would end up saving them, he said, thousands of dollars.”
Keam adds it’s illegal to fly drones along railway tracks but, in the case of an emergency, he’s sure CP would make an exception.
Shuswap Station #106 volunteers oversee marine search and rescue on Shuswap and Mara lakes. For more information, visit http://rcmsar.com/rescue-stations/southern-region/shushwap/.