State-of-the-art UAS operated by the Sky Watch charity which joined forces with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, are to be deployed for the first time in a missing person search in Northern Ireland later this week.
At least one of the UAS — and possibly an auto-gyro or a light aircraft — will scour the coastline of the Co Antrim town today providing high definition images as investigators search for clues regarding the whereabouts of 24-year-old Dean Patton from Portrush who disappeared on July 24.
The Belfast Telegraph has learned his disappearance is just one of 82 missing person cases currently on PSNI files.
Dean’s uncle Gerry said his parents John and Linda are “devastated” by their nightmare situation and hailed the help offered by Sky Watch in trying to track him down.
The input of the charity to the search operation came about by chance.
Sky Watch’s Paul Trimble was staying in Portrush with his family over the weekend.
He was aware of the hunt for Dean having followed the case in the media.
Paul discovered Gerry was staying just yards away in a caravan site in the town and went to meet him and offer the charity’s services.
Sky Watch has been operating elsewhere in the UK for 10 years and recently joined forces with the police and fire service in Northern Ireland.
Pilots and aircrew give their time and aircraft free of charge, keeping running costs low.
The charity’s plane was used in the search for Joby Murphy and Sam Campbell earlier this year but Friday will mark the first time drones have been used.
Paul told the Belfast Telegraph: “We have a full size aircraft and a number of UAS we deploy.
“I brought Sky Watch here about two years ago and it has taken that time to get it fully established.
“I developed these UAS myself. They are basically high-end model airplanes with auto-pilot and high-definition cameras. They are fully approved by the Civil Aviation Authority.
“Our UAS cost thousands of pounds, the military ones are hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“We can fly 24/7 in almost all weather except dense fog.
“So, when the police air support unit is grounded due to low cloud, we can fly.
“That’s where the benefit is.”
Over 300,000 people were reported missing to police in the UK last year.
Source: Belfast Telegraph