Underwater rover to aid SAR in Alaska

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Norton Sound, Alaska.

The communities of Alaskan fishing region Norton Sound will soon have the benefit of an underwater drone to assist in search and rescue (SAR) missions. The funds for the new drone were allocated during the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation’s (NSEDC) first quarterly meeting of 2018, and after the drone has been purchased, the NSEDC plans to base it in Nome – to be flown out to communities as and when it’s needed.

The drone in question is a Video Ray Defender drone: a propeller-driven drone that is tethered to an operating system based above the ice while the drone goes underwater, using both a camera and sonar to send images back to a computer. It even has a ‘manipulator arm’ that can grab objects underwater.

Laureli Ivanoff, Communications Director for NSEDC, said: “With the warming winters, our winters are completely different these days. There’s a lot of open water, so we’re seeing a growing number of through-the-ice SAR operations, and our board really saw a need to have advanced tools in our region.”

First Sergeant Daniel Harrelson, the village public safety officer and mayor in White Mountain, as well as an NSEDC board chair, commented on how the drone would be shared between communities: “We’ve talked about trying to get folks trained in each of these communities. That’s the goal. And in the interim, if we can get some guys trained out of Nome or proficiently trained from some of the villages, those people may be able to go down and assist some of the other villages in case there is an incident that requires the use of a drone.”

The community sadly lost an elder member of its population after he fell through the ice early this winter – had they had the drone then, they may have ‘had better results’, said Harrelson. The gentleman, Lincoln “Mike” Simon, has not yet been recovered and, according to Harrelson, the search continued from early November to a few days before Christmas. The community plans to resume the search in the spring.

The NSEDC is not yet sure of when it will receive the drone, but Harrelson is eager for it to arrive within the next few months so that training can begin over the summer, when the water in the regions is open.

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