Sky Watch at the Balmoral Show 2015

Our thanks once again to the organisers of the Balmoral Show for our superb stand and to our new and experienced volunteers, who kindly gave up their free time and work time to meet the public.

It was  a very busy three days with hundreds of leaflets distributed and numerous kind donations. Lots of people stopped to enquire about our work and discover their temperature on our thermal camera. Our new schools programme proved popular with visiting schools too.

We would also like to thank Johnston Gilpin, Lisburn for the use of their Gator, a superb off road cart which allowed us to transport our heavy equipment around the site for UAV flights and quick redeployment of staff.

Skywatch ‘Feature’ at Emergency Services Show

ACC Sean White of the Cleveland PoliceSkywatch was fortunate enough to be situated close to the seminar area when ACC Sean White of the Cleveland Police was due to give his talk on the use of UAVs at this years’ Emergency Services Show.

As a related prop, Skywatch was offered the opportunity to position their fixed wing drone beside the presentation screen which provided some excellent branding for the charity and even some media coverage, as seen in the October edition of Police Aviation News.

On Exercise with the North West Mountain Rescue Team

On Sunday 31st August, SkyWatch NI undertook a days training with the North West Mountain Rescue Team (NWMRT) on Slieveanorra in County Antrim.

Beginning at 10am under blue skies and light winds we spent the morning discussing a range of protocols for search, communication and interoperability followed by equipment familiarisation.

This led to a number of agreements on procedure, particularly in relation to search, scene management and communication procedures, ensuring a faster, more coordinated approach during real incidents. It also gave both teams an opportunity to meet each other and understand each others capabilities and limitations.

Following a quick lunch on the mountainside we began a search within the designated area based on a mock missing persons’ profile. While the NWMRT utilised their strength in numbers and profile based search techniques, SkyWatch undertook wide area and inaccessible area searches using the quadcopter.

As the afternoon progressed the NWMRT found the first of the two missing people and provided a team to extract them by stretcher back to their awaiting vehicles. The second missing person was then spotted by the quadcopter operator within a sunken gulley, in the boggy and challenging ground cover. While the visibility remained excellent throughout the day, wind sheer on the lee side of the mountain pushed both the quadcopter and operator to their limit with the unit flying over 60º horizontally into the wind to maintain stability while still recording an excellent image.

With the second person identified, the NWMRT then provided personnel for the medical assistance and recovery of the individual.

Overall the day highlighted a number of operating procedures which benefited from refinement, some clear decisions on protocol and the ease and professionalism of working with the NWMRT who facilitated the days’ training.

It also highlighted the immediate need for a SkyWatch command vehicle for the radio control officer, battery charging stations and video analysis. Currently this is provided through the donation of volunteers’ own vehicles and equipment.

You can find out more about the North West Mountain Rescue Team on their website.

Helium Balloon to be deployed in hunt for missing Omagh woman

Helium Balloon cameraA new search device is to be deployed on Saturday 20th July in the hunt for a woman near Omagh who has been missing for over a week now.

We will be launching the helium based unit in Drumquin near Omagh in an effort to assist the PSNI search.

This will be our first live deployment of the Helium balloon and adds to the range of airborne search equipment we now deploy.

Minister Meets with Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol

The Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Mike Penning MP, joined members of the Northern Ireland Civil Air Patrol at their base to discuss the organisation and the support they offer to the community.

After viewing one of the aircraft, the Minister was provided with a briefing by the Chairman of Sky Watch UK, Tony Cowan, and Unit Director and Deputy Chief Pilot of Sky Watch NI, Paul Trimble. After the Chairman provided an overview of the organisation, Paul Trimble provided more detail on the service and technology used in Northern Ireland, including unmanned aerial vehicles (drones).

The Minister was very enthusiastic about the use of voluntary sector in support of the
emergency services and expressed particular interest in the work of Civil Air Patrol during the recent severe weather. After his briefing the Minister said “I greatly admire the work of the voluntary sector in support of the local community and the emergency services.”

It soon became evident that the Minister could see opportunities for a voluntary sector organisation such as Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol to support PSNI when searching for missing persons and in response to severe weather events. For the Fire and Rescue Service of Northern Ireland, the use of drones is particularly important when dealing with hazardous materials, wildfires and flooding.

Searching the River Foyle for missing Kieron McKeon

Earlier today we performed a search for missing man Kieron McKeon among dense reeds beneath Foyle Bridge.

Kieron (18) and Alexander O’Brien (21) went missing after travelling to Londonderry on Thursday past. Foyle Search and Rescue, accompanied by the Irish Coast Guard searched the Foyle and requested Skywatch to provide a drone to search by remote camera, areas which were inaccessible to boats and rescuers.

The story can also be seen on BBC News.