A border collie named Ace was reunited with his owners 11 days after he ran away from a fatal crash near Hanmer Springs, New Zealand. The dog was found by a tracker using a thermal drone, a device that can detect heat signatures from the sky.
Ace was on the back of a ute, a type of pickup truck， when it collided with another car on June 2. The driver of the car, Patrick Honey, 20, died as a result of the crash. Ace’s owners, Hailey Palmer and her family, survived the crash but could not find Ace. His collar had snapped due to the force and he was seen running north.
“We’re very excited to see him back,” Palmer said on Wednesday morning. “He was very excited to see his dad.”
The search for Ace received a boost when Don Schwass of the Nelson Search/Dog Tracking Page Facebook site joined the effort. Schwass is a volunteer who uses drones for search and rescue operations for lost animals and people. He has a FAA waiver that allows him to fly at night.
Schwass said he had been able to build a picture of what Ace was doing by following his tracks and droppings. He said Ace had been using the state highway as a travel corridor, at one point moving 10km north. He had been eating road kill possums.
On Tuesday, Schwass and Palmer went into the area where he expected Ace to be. Palmer left a trail of her scent and some clothes of her family members. Then Tuesday evening, Schwass and his son Adam put up a thermal drone after dark and found a dog.
Palmer, who had gone home by then, received a call to say Ace had been found. She drove to the site to pick him up, with footage of the encounter showing the excited reunion of owner and dog.
“Finding him safe was a wonderful and slightly overwhelming experience, but it only motivates you to carry on and do more,” Schwass said.
Thermal drones are becoming more popular and useful for various purposes such as search and rescue, building inspection, game hunting, and agriculture. They can pinpoint heat signatures from the sky using infrared cameras.
The Predator-like ability to see heat is as useful for building inspectors and insulation engineers as it is for search-and-rescue services. There is even a growing interest among game hunters.
However, flying thermal drones at night requires special permissions and regulations. While an infrared camera can see at night, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allowed to fly in the dark.
Ace looked OK after his ordeal, but he was taken to the vet for a check up. Palmer said he was hungry and thirsty, but otherwise happy to be home.
“The drone service he provides to distraught owners like us is invaluable,” she said of Schwass.
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