Local man uses drone to help search for missing woman in Washington state

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SUAMICO, Wis. (WBAY) - Drones are being used more often in search and rescue operations. Earlier this month, a drone helped to locate a missing person in Eau Claire County. A local drone expert is helping with the search for a missing woman on the west coast of the United States.

Bill Bongle examines aerial footage on his computer (WBAY photo)

Bill Bongle is a retired police captain turned drone expert. He owns Titletown Drones.

His time and talents were requested last week in Washington state after initial searches for Samantha Sayers, a hiker who went missing back in August, were unsuccessful.

According to Bongle, "The emergency services out there did do a tremendous push and they put a lot of resources into this, but every agency has it limits of what they can expend."

With those resources exhausted, Bongle was brought in as part of a privately-funded search. The footage he shot with his drone shows just how dangerous the terrain is, not very conducive for a ground search.

"They looked at the terrain and decided that drones really were a great tool for this job. K9s were also brought along, but K9s can only get where people can get, so in that case, the drones we were able to get into places where people cannot safely go," says Bongle.

For two days, Bongle operated his drone off of Vesper Peak, which sits at about 6,000 feet and more than two hours from Seattle.

He says, "We had the vista, we had clear line of sight of the drones and the ability to reach multiple points from one point."

Each day a helicopter would drop him off on top of the mountain. He spent six hours the first day capturing pictures and videos which will be studied and analyzed for any sign of the missing woman.

Bongle says, "When you take a photograph with a drone, it's recording the GPS coordinates of where that photo was taken, so if something was detected in one of the photos we would be able to return to that location an investigate it further."

Weather unfortunately cut his second day of flying short and a third day was completely canceled. And while the search for Samantha Sayers goes on, Bongle is hopeful what he shot will help the young woman's family.

He adds, "Unresolved loss is probably one of the hardest things that any family can go through, so anything we can do to try to alleviate, wondering of what happened to my loved one."

Bongle says some crowdsourcing has been used to analyze pictures of the search area. He will soon be posting pictures on his website and Facebook page for people to look at.

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