‘The difference between life and death’: Drone used to find missing 70-year-old in Jefferson County

JEFFERSON COUNTY (KMOV.com) — The High Ridge Fire Protection District used a drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera to locate a 70-year-old man who’d gone missing in Byrnes Mill on Friday night. According to Police Chief Frank Selvaggio, the man was believed to have wandered into a heavily wooded area near Highway 30 and Gravois Road.

“I don’t believe that gentleman would have survived the night if we hadn’t found him and that drone was key,” Selvaggio said.

Selvaggio said the man suffers from a dementia-like condition and because of that, police try to look out for his safety. He said the man had been seen walking down a road near his home earlier, but then an eyewitness report came in that he was seen taking his clothes off and walking in a creek.

“We were really getting concerned because the temperature was dropping dramatically at that point. If he was wet in the water, he was going to have some difficulty surviving the evening,” the chief said.

Extra officers were called in to help search a heavily wooded area west of Woods Home Improvement Store near Highway 30 and Gravois Road. The High Ridge Fire Protection District was also called in to help and brought a drone, equipped with a thermal imaging camera.

Captain John Barton started the fire district’s drone program. “This is why we got the technology for, these are the types of situations where we knew it could make a big impact,” he said.

What normally would have been an hours-long search only took a few minutes with the use of the thermal imaging camera. “We launched the drone and within 5 minutes we had found what was obviously a human being,” said Barton.

Barton told News 4 he was able to use the thermal imaging camera to guide searchers directly to the man.

According to Selvaggio, the man’s condition had significantly deteriorated because he was naked and temperatures were around 40 degrees. He said the man is still hospitalized.

“It really reinforces what we believe, which is that the drone technology, when used in the right circumstances can be the difference between life and death,” said Barton.

Barton said the fire district’s drone cost $25,000 and was paid for entirely by a donation from a local business owner.

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