Disclaimer: Since the Kingsport Police Department is not the lead investigative agency in the search for Summer Wells, officers were unable to speak to the status of the search. The agency shared details on how tools like drones are used in such instances.
KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- More than 1,000 searchers from more than 120 agencies across Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina joined the search for Summer Wells.
They logged 13,800 hours of searching using different technology like drones to help them scour through the tough terrain.
One of the drones used was from the Kingsport Police Department.
“We would have searching units in a line, and they would be going in a systematic pattern,” said KPD Patrolman and drone operator Mat McGuire. “And once we find something of interest that might pop up on the screen, that’s when we would start guiding the ground units that are actually searching toward that object or item.”
From the first spin of the rotors and into lift-off, it’s clear that despite their small size, drones are powerful tools in law enforcement.
“We can take aerial pictures of specifically crime scenes, crash scenes,” McGuire said. “We can use it for search and rescue missions. So if somebody gets lost in the woods and we can’t see them, we can put a different camera on, a fleer camera, and we can actually pick up the heat signatures of persons.”
The guidance is an all-seeing birdseye view with benefits that go beyond search and rescue. Crime scenes, traffic and crowd watching also stand to benefit.
“I have taken the drone up as high as 400 feet to test the limits of the DGI software, and it actually will stop us. It will not let us go above 400 feet,” he said. “On the fatality on Interstate 81, I took it up as high as 113 feet just to get the nice overhead aerial of the crash scene.”
Back in November, the KPD was called to assist in a planned search for Summer Wells. They aren’t the investigating agency, so investigators wouldn’t speak about the case, but they did share how their agency’s drone helped.
“It’s reliant on heat change and heat,” McGuire said about the fleer camera. “So if a vehicle had been there for a minute, if a body has been there for a little while, bit harder to pick it up on the fleer camera.”
The flight to showcase the technology was planned and considered to be an affordable launch, which wouldn’t be the case if it took gas instead of batteries.
“Obviously, a drone is a lot cheaper than a helicopter, operating a helicopter, to fuel a helicopter. So we can put this up a lot faster, and it just gives us a different perspective as an investigator on the scene, crime scenes, to see to watch over crowds, large crowds such as Funfest and things like that,” said McGuire. “So we can kind of start seeing issues or things rising, and we can start radioing ‘We’re seeing a problem in this area’ and start moving officers toward the problem.”