January 1, 1970

UAS Case Study: Drones used in search and rescue for missing teen

Written by


The Call

On the afternoon of Saturday, January 7th, a trooper of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) pulled over a vehicle with several passengers, including a 16-year-old girl. During the traffic stop, Acevedo escaped from the car into the wooded area bordering the interstate. Unable to locate her, FHP requested the help of local authorities to search. Since she was a pregnant minor, the girl was reported as "missing/endangered."

The Response

Early that evening, FLYMOTION received a request for assistance from an agency. Members of the FLYMOTION team quickly mobilized and responded to the search area with several assets, including our MAVERICK mobile command vehicle and multiple drones equipped with thermal payloads, spotlights, and speakers.

Upon arrival, our team was briefed on the situation by incident commanders. Authorities had already established a perimeter around the area and were actively searching it with ground teams, K9 units, and a helicopter equipped with a thermal camera.

The agency's UAS team was flying out of the Incident Command Post (ICP), located on the northwest corner of the search area. The FLYMOTION team was located on the southern perimeter to cover a large unsearched section of the area. Flying a grid pattern from the southwest corner and moving northeast, they primarily relied on thermal cameras to look for the minor; with nightfall approaching, it was the only way to see through the thick foliage below. They flew well into the night, conducting numerous battery swaps on all aircraft.

Deputies (bottom left), seen with the drone's thermal camera, search for the missing teen.

However, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, the search was unfruitful. Authorities would not find Acevedo until the following morning — nearly 11 hours after the FLYMOTION team left — when she emerged from the woods unharmed.

Key Takeaways

Operations like this one are beneficial as they provide opportunities to develop best practices, refine procedures, and validate equipment. These are some of our important takeaways from the search.

Despite the urgency of the situation, don't rush the operation.

It can be tempting to rush into an incident like this one: there was an endangered 16-year-old lost in the woods. And with nighttime approaching, the chances of finding her were decreasing quickly. However, when you rush, you increase the likelihood of an accident. Flying at night while sharing the airspace with other aircraft is already inherently risky and takes considerable situational awareness. Disregarding safety protocols for the sake of speed would have been dangerous.

Airspace coordination is crucial.

In addition to its own UAS team, the agency also flew its helicopter over the area for several hours. To minimize issues in busy air space, the FLYMOTION team and the other drone teams set altitude limits to mitigate any collisions. Moreover, as an additional precaution, UAS teams landed their drones whenever the helicopter flew at low altitudes over the search area to deconflict the airspace.

When possible, bring multiple aircraft.

One platform may offer an advantage over the other. For example, we noticed smaller aircraft were better suited for flying close to tree cover than larger drones. In more practical terms, this also provided the team with a backup aircraft in the event of a mishap.

Drones offer unique advantages over manned assets. The agency was unable to keep its helicopter over the area for an extended period as it was reaching the end of the maintenance cycle. On longer missions like this one, fuel costs can quickly add up. Their UAS team, on the other hand, continued flying long after the helicopter left at a considerably lower operating cost.

Additional notes:

Mobile command vehicles are valuable assets. Rather than deploying from the incident command post, our team chose to take off from positions that would maximize flight time over the victim's suspected location. The vehicle enabled the team to detach from incident command with its onboard power, communication, and connectivity systems. During extended searches, it's beneficial to have several eyes on the feed to catch any details possibly overlooked by the pilot. The large screen on MAVERICK allowed officers to do so without crowding the pilot. You can learn more about our mobile command vehicles here.

MAVERICK on scene

Having the right communication tools makes a difference. The FLYMOTION team was equipped with L3Harris XL radios with LTE capabilities. As a result, our UAS team, incident command, and other FLYMOTION team members miles away were seamlessly connected with real-time communication on one system.


This operation serves as yet another example of how drones enable first responders to tackle complex missions safely and efficiently. Authorities covered large sections of the area faster and more cost-effective than with conventional methods. FLYMOTION is proud to have assisted agencies during this incident and stands ready to continue our mission of supporting those who serve. To learn more about any of the products mentioned in this case study, you can contact us through the form below or visit our website at flymotionus.com.

Other Articles from FLYMOTION

By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.