Stranded Motorist Effects Own Rescue Using A Drone And A Cell Phone

If you’re looking for a good excuse to finally buy a drone, you probably can’t do better than claiming it can save your life.

Granted, you may never find yourself in the position of being stuck in a raging snowstorm in the middle of the Oregon wilderness, but if you do, this is a good one to keep in mind. According to news stories and the Lane County Sheriff Search and Rescue Facebook page, an unnamed motorist who was trying to negotiate an unmaintained road through the remote Willamette National Forest got stuck in the snow. This put him in a bad situation, because not only was he out of cell range, but nobody knew where he was or even that he was traveling, so he wouldn’t be missed for days.

Thankfully, the unlucky motorist played all his cards right. Rather than wandering off on foot in search of help, he stayed with his vehicle, which provided shelter from the elements. Conveniently, he also happened to have a drone along with him, which provided him with an opportunity to get some help. After typing a detailed text message to a friend describing his situation and exact location, he attached the phone to his drone and sent it straight up a couple of hundred feet — enough to get a line-of-sight connection to a cell tower. Note that the image above is a reenactment by the Search and Rescue team; it’s not clear how the resourceful motorist rigged up the drone, but we’re going to guess duct tape was involved.

When he brought the drone back down a few minutes later, he found that the queued text had been sent, and the cavalry was on the way. The Search and Rescue unit was able to locate him, and as a bonus, also found someone else nearby who had been stranded for days. So it was a win all around thanks to some clever thinking and a little technology.

79 thoughts on “Stranded Motorist Effects Own Rescue Using A Drone And A Cell Phone

      1. Can’t control a balloon to bring back the phone to see if it worked. So no 2nd chances. Also cell towers don’t “see” too high up, they got antennae oriented for horizontal coverage only. A drone is the better vehicle in this case

  1. A jam jar, some zinc, vinegar or other acid, an elastic band, a large plastic bin bag and large spool of thread would probably be cheaper than having a drone, where the battery would probably be dead when you needed it most.

    And if you can not think exactly what I am suggesting, think tiny zeppelin.

    1. 1.2031 kg of mass can be lifted per cubic meter of hydrogen (0.16 ounce per gallon) . So a 240 litre (0.24 cubic meter ; ~64 gallons) bag filled with hydrogen could lift about 288 g (~10 ounces), which would also include the mass of the large bin bag.

      1. there’s an experiment lurking in there for the brave !! I’ve just been reading several accounts of the demise of the R101, I was struck by the limitation being the loss of hydrogen but you’d only need it aloft for a little while I guess …

      2. You would need about a kg of zinc and a couple litres of strong hydrochloric acid to fill that bag though. You’d want the zinc to be powdered and the acid to be strong so that it doesn’t take longer to fill your bag than the rest of your implicitly in peril life. I suspect you’d be better off with the drone and your car battery to charge it.

        1. To fill 240 litres (~64 gallons) you would need about 615 g (22 ounces) of zinc, so you are in the ballpark. A volume of about 87 cubic centimetres or 0.086 litres (~3 fluid ounces). The thing about zinc is that it reacts with acid super fast, I was trying to slow down the reaction to stop it from reacting so fast that it boiled the acid and generated uncontrollable amounts froth.

    2. I’m not sure this story is a guide for “preppers”, more a story about human ingenuity. Much more useful is to pack a blanket and food and TELL PEOPLE WHERE YOU’RE GOING AND WHAT TIME YOU EXPECT TO ARRIVE when you’re off driving through mountains in the show.

    3. Ah yes, back in the day I had so much fun taking aerial photos with my jam jar, some zinc, vinegar or other acid, an elastic band, a large plastic bin bag and large spool of thread… ;-)

    1. There’s just one small problem with that: You have to have cell phone coverage for it to work. No network, you can’t be found. That was the problem this fella was in – no network coverage where he was. He put his phone in a drone to raise it high enough to get access to the network.

      1. In the next few generations of Qualcomm CPUs they are adding satellite messaging. The iPhone 14 already has satellite SOS feature. Won’t be too long before you’ll be able to text anywhere.

  2. Wasn’t Lane County Sheriff the ego-driven law enforcement group that wouldn’t work with Adventures with Purpose about a year ago to help find a missing person in a vehicle under water?

  3. That’s really ingenious! Using a kite might be another option. Kites have been used in the past for lifting aerial photography payloads (pre-digital imaging) as well as other things.

    1. You’d just need a way to constantly press the “go higher” button, and hope that the drone would rise to its software-limited maximum altitude and then hopefully return-to-base before the battery totally gives out.

    2. Do the phone controlled drones not have a waypoint mission type concept?
      So just set it up to go straight up, hover, and return then hit go?

      I’ve only flown more traditional RC (and then not as often as I’d like) and as I enjoy the act of flying I’ve never looked into the phone app controlled ones – expensive and seems to take away the bit I actually enjoy…

      1. The phone controlled ones tend to be cheap toys or high end ones. I always though the phone was mainly to display video and they still had a dedicated controller too.

    3. Not necessarily. Some people use a dedicated tablet for their drone instead of a phone, and some drones come with a controller that has a built-in screen so no phone or tablet is required.

    4. In addition to the dedicated devices and built in screens on some remotes, generally if the drone has a remote then the remote does the work, even if there’s an app and phone holder. The app provides feedback and gives additional controls, but basic line of sight operation is possible with only the remote. Certainly easy enough to ascend then descend again.

  4. I did similar one time without the drone. I was heading South the visit a friend who lives in the mountains. I had only been there like one time before and my GPS as it turned out did not know the area and took me past a key turnoff. I found myself in the middle of nowhere and not having a good idea what to do. The last cell phone signal I had was 45 minutes ago or so. I went further up the mountain and had 3 pieces of good luck, one was the trees thinned out, one was I wound up on on a piece of road with a cliff on one side, and the other was not far down the road from that, there was a place I could just turn around if I was very very careful. So I got turned around. It was a 14 point turn but better than going over the cliff. Truck had bad rear visibility to put it mildly. Next I stopped by the cliff to see if I had any cell. No, but I was also sitting in the truck. In a metal cage. I got out and very slowly did some moving around. I did not see a bar, but the service indicator said Verizon when I was pointing just the right way. No signal if I tried to make a call though. Last, like the drone, think about a clear line of sight. I hopped up on the hood, climbed up on the roof and from there hopped up on tall box over the back. Another few slow rotations and trying different angles and I got a signal flickering between one and two bars. I was able to make a call. My pal did not know where I was but told me to go back the way I can if I could recall it, as there are all kinds of logging roads and private roads to campsites and what not up there, and to look for a landmark, and I actually recalled the landmark he gave me, and to look for a turn right after that, which of course going down was right before it, but I found the very easy to miss road and 15 minutes later started remembering little bits of the way from my previous visit up there. First trip up was in the daytime, and with a friend, this trip was after a 20 hour drive, and alone, and it was 4AM, and the turn was very very easy to miss. Half and hour later I was there. Just in time to see the sin rise, but I was there..

    1. Oh, sure… Coz every drone requires a cell phone for a controller… And couldn’t possibly have an actual controller… And cell phone apps don’t run on tablets either.

  5. If you have bluetooth in your car that lets you use it as a speakerphone, I wonder if that would stay connected and allow for a phone call too? I know that’s a bit far for bluetooth, but it’s still line of sight.

    1. I suspect the Bluetooth audio would stay working, especially if its using a newer BT standard – the 5.2 spec seems to be much better at long range. Not dug into why as I hate BT as a rule, but my n=1 test showed about double the range without issue over the older source device.

      However can you successfully even initiate the call when the phone is unable to dial until it is sufficiently high – any voice dial commands would have to be processed locally as you won’t get the big data harvesters cloud helping you out on such a spotty connection? Would you actually manage to get stable enough signal to maintain a call anyway? SMS seems like a much better choice to me.

    2. In line of sight Bluetooth audio fail between my living room and my kitchen. 5m is absolute max. He did well. But there is a part of luck on getting the signal anyway.

  6. If you regularly go to areas without cell coverage, just get a PLB. About the price of a mid-range smartphone, but enables you to call for help from anywhere on the planet.

  7. A cell booster lifted into a tree might work also. Truckers use them. Or a metallic zeplin and you might get lucky that the sms bounces off the balloon like a disco ball, alternatives include a massive fire, a flare gun, a message in a bottle lol. But this guy rocks

    1. You say that; “professional” drones have been available long enough that people carry them for their jobs. Need to survey land? A building? Take wedding photos? Look at something a human can’t get to?
      All of these are possible, in addition to the possibility that, I don’t know, they had the drone just for fun? A random person with a drone is far more likely to be an FPV hobbyist or a photographer than an influencer.

  8. I am a ham radio operator. I have two different radios I carry. One is an HF radio capable of communicating from one continent to another as well as around the USA. I can send email, color photos etc with it as well. I also have another radio that has GPS built in and it can send SMS messages. That radio with GPS can ping my location out and be tracked to my location. I would throw a wire up in a tree and go back to my car and call for help from inside my car or truck. Its a great system and doesn’t rely on cell tower infrastructure working, or a drone.

  9. 1) “Thankfully, the unlucky motorist played all his cards right.”
    2) “…trying to negotiate an unmaintained road through the remote Willamette National Forest”
    3) “not only was he out of cell range, but nobody knew where he was or even that he was traveling”

    2 & 3 are in direct contradiction to 1.

    He may have been both resourceful and lucky once disaster struck but heading out into an unmaintained forest road in the winter when getting stuck in snow is plausible and not even letting anyone know where he is going was not playing his cards right. It was being irresponsible. He should definitely be billed for the rescue!

  10. A lot of people have died in the Australian Outback. A drone would be useless – there are no cellphone towers in the desert.
    Satellite phone are a thing, but expensive. HF radio has best coverage, assuming you have a license AND someone is listening.

    The best advice is still to TELL SOMEONE where you are going, how long you plan to take, and follow up with a call when you get there.

    1. I hear winches come in useful. Few mention how wind storms you simply don’t see a lot of drones flying around. Sometimes the truth can scream in your ear but you can’t hear it because of the wind. That’s probably what happened, nothing at all.

  11. Old satellite cell phones had a huge honkin antenna on them and are not recommended for regular usage because of the radiation they put out. So future cells won’t need large antennas? Still not Captain Kirks communicator but getting there.

  12. There isn’t one person here that would fly a drone in wind speeds over 20 MPH unless they would risk destroying one of the more expensive drones that can handle a moderate wind speed over 50 MPH. The MATRICE 300 RTK sells for around $8,000 USD and the controller around $1000.

    1. Yup, a lot of smaller consumer drones get upset at a light breeze (looking at my Mini 3, which can overheat pretty quickly when it’s fighting against pretty minor winds). Let’s assume that he flew the drone *after* the storm had passed……

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