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TPWD’s Drones Yield Positive Outcomes

Texas Game Warden Search and Rescue Drone Program Yields Positive Outcomes Across the State

AUSTIN – Three recent incidents requiring game warden drone support and successful coordination with local law enforcement led to an arrest in east Texas and two rescues of lost individuals in the hill country.

On the night of Nov. 3, Texas Game Warden Michael Hummert responded to an Erath County Sheriff’s Office request for assistance. An older man had gone missing in Dublin. As the only law enforcement officer equipped with a thermal drone in the county, his services were necessary.

“The setting sun prevented us from locating him through usual means,” Hummert said. “The thermal drone picks up body heat, which is necessary to locate someone at night. With the cold creeping in, it was imperative to find him quickly.”

Using cell phone records, the sheriff’s office determined a general location for the individual, and Hummert mapped out a search area. Then, working out of a control station attached to his vehicle, he located the individual through a thermal scan and led deputies to the location.

Just nine days later, in Bell County, federal officials reached out for assistance in another missing person case. Again, warden Hummert arrived on the scene without another available drone operator. In this case, the family shared vital information about the person’s location while federal support provided robust mapping systems. Again, the individual was found safe and secure.

Only in his second month of the Texas Game Warden Unmanned Arial System Program (UASP), Hummert has seen firsthand the benefit his skills and equipment bring to his community.

“Success is really about the right equipment. A helicopter is highly beneficial for any search and rescue, but it’s only sometimes practical in rural areas. Responding with a drone cuts your response time and cost, allowing for more versatility. I respond to anything from car accidents to bomb threats.”

Meanwhile, further east, Hummert’s drone teammate Texas Game Warden Doug Williams, received a request for assistance to locate a suspect who shot at and physically assaulted two individuals, then fled. Williams circled the residence using another thermal drone and spotted a heat signature in the woods.

Due to the freezing temperatures, the suspect hid in the brush, curled in the fetal position. He was arrested and later treated for hypothermia.

“Empowering our division with the drone program in cooperation with Gear Up for Game Warden’s donations creates a lifeline where there wasn’t,” said UASP supervisor Lt. Matthew Bridgefarmer. “Game warden drone operators arrive on the scene to locate lost boaters and hikers. We search in the aftermath of natural disasters. This program saves lives.”