MCSO Aviation Unit uses infrared camera and navagation system to find lost runner

Posted at 7:54 PM, Jan 13, 2017

It was an incredible rescue that has Justine Drew still counting her blessings.

“Just total disbelief, panic,” said Drew, describing how she felt when she realized she was lost on the trails in Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

The Royal Palm Beach runner was training for a 50K race at the park last Friday.

About halfway through her 16 mile run, her GPS watch battery died.

She knew she need to cross over from one trail to another trail, but without her watch, she lost track of the mileage.

And after running for a while, she realized she missed the turn and was now lost. At that point, it was starting to get dark.

“My phone was about 40 percent battery,” said Drew. “I know there is wild boars out there."

That's when Drew knew she needed to call 911.

“It was so dark I couldn’t see the tree with the trail sign painted on it.”

While she couldn’t see in the dark, an infrared camera could.

“We can see the heat admitting from them,” said Doug Newsome, the chief pilot for the Martin County Sheriff’s Office’s Aviation Unit.

And that's how the Aviation Unit was able to find Drew and direct rescuers to her.

However, search and rescue is only a fraction of what this unit is able to do.

“Without this equipment our effectiveness would not be a quarter or what it is,” said Newsom.

In fact, it's a key crime-fighting tool as well.

The HD infrared camera coupled with the high-tech navigation unit allows these helicopter pilots to be the eye in the sky.

“Long before anyone ever even remotely hears us, we’ve already been remotely looking.”

They can see or find almost anything from above, including suspects and evidence, all from several miles away.

And in the case of a crime-in-progress…

“We’ve recorded every bit of it right here on a thumb drive,” said Newsom.

They are not only helping their ground units, but gathering video evidence in the process.

As for Drew, she says she is very grateful to the Martin County Sheriff’s Office. She says the big lesson here is to always be prepared when you go out running by having fully charged batteries and even a flashlight.