Eye In The Sky

‘Eagle 1’ is Superstition Search & Rescue’s new high-tech tool
By Bill Van Nimwegen
The News

Imagine¬†you have just taken a spill in one of the out-of-the-way canyons in the Superstitions. It wasn’t a serious fall, but you have twisted your ankle and it’s very painful to walk, let alone climb out. Hours have gone by when you hear the insistent sound of a swarm of insects and look up to see a hovering high-tech quad-copter.


Smile! You’re on camera, and help is on the way. Superstition Search and Rescue (SSAR), a local volunteer rescue group, has added a new tool to help them in their efforts to locate and rescue lost or injured hikers.

“Eagle 1,” SSAR’s Matrix quad-copter, is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) they recently purchased and are now putting through its paces to see how best to use it. It consists of a technologically-advanced system that includes a gimbal mounted video camera on a remote controlled helicopter along with a control unit and a monitor that shows a live feed from the copter. The UAV has wireless connections to six Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. The monitor displays a high resolution video feed plus grid coordinates of where it is and where the ground based pilot wants it to go.

The battery-powered helicopter can be controlled from 200 yards away during a 25-minute flight time. The benefit to both the search team and those that are lost or in trouble is tremendous. The peaks and deep canyons of the Superstitions can be accessed quicker and safer using the UAV along with searchers in the field, resulting in critical time savings.

Robert Cooper, director of urban searches at SSAR, said that the system can give accu rate directions to help find the person who is lost.

SSAR has had their eye on the system for a long time. “We have been hosting fundraisers and applying for grants because UAV systems used to cost $20,000, but the technology is going up and the prices are coming down,” Cooper said. “We ended up paying just $5,000 for the best system, with all of the upgrades.” Cooper added that it also came with a hat.


The Apache Junction Elks #2349 raised $2,000 to be applied to the purchase. Dennis Mack, one of the SSAR volunteers who is also in the Elks said that Eagle 1 should be a big help on the trail. “It folds up to fit in a suitcase, which is actually pretty heavy,” Mack said. “But I guess we’ll rig up a harness so it won’t be too hard to pack in.”

SSAR is a private volunteer service organization dedicated to wilderness and urban search and rescue in Arizona. The primary purpose of the organization is to assist individuals who may experience wilderness-related problems including falls or medical emergencies, lost or overdue hikers and heat or cold exposure. SSAR is skilled in wilderness first-aid, technical rescue, orienteering and tracking. These skills enable Superstition Search & Rescue members to safely and efficiently move patients from the field to appropriate medical service in the event of injury, or to their families, in the case of a lost or overdue hiker. You can learn more about SSAR and volunteering at www.superstition-sar.org.