Drone Use in SAR – Part Two: Preparation and Operation

Drone use in SAR

-Article courtesy of Mike Scott

In case you missed it, you can read Part One: Selecting the right UAV here

There is a lot to think about when using a UAV to support a SAR mission and we will have a look at a couple here: Mission planning and Payload operation.

We will have to save search patterns for the third installment as this might be a bit much to cover all in one go.

Remember, that the mission you are flying is “User” directed. That user could be the Search Team Lead, Rescue Coordinator or even the Police. Be patient when explaining what you can and can’t do with your UAV. In many cases the User will not know much about UAV’s and or the capabilities. It will be up to you as the pilot to walk them through this.

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Drone Use in SAR – Part One: Selecting the Right UAV

Drone use in SAR 1

-Article courtesy of Mike Scott

With the cost and size of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) shrinking we are seeing more and more teams employing these amazing little machines to aid in searches and team coordination. However, like any piece of great gear, it’s only as good as the person using it. Some of you may be sitting on the fence when it comes to using a UAV or drone in your SAR operations. Some may be fully one way or the other. Over the next few posts I will try to clear up some of the misconceptions and maybe help you decide if this is something your team could benefit from.

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The Other Side of Search and Rescue

When most hear the term SAR (Search and Rescue), they think of a group in brightly coloured jackets surrounding a lost hiker or a basket being raised from a sinking boat. For many this is mostly true, but SAR has a darker side that people outside of the community don’t like to talk about.

What happens when the rescue team doesn’t get there in time?

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Combat SAR vs TRAP


I am going to pre-qualify this article by saying that this information is based on my recollection of the subject matter and that I have been out of the active duty Marine Corps for over 20 years. Times have changed and perhaps some of the methodology has as well.

First off:
CSAR = Combat Search and Rescue
TRAP = Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel

What occurs when a pilot goes down behind enemy lines or in a hostile region?

Pilots are put through several different types of training to increase their survival odds should such an occurrence happen. Training like the SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) is designed to help them survive post crash or grounding of an aircraft, avoid being an easy capture, and give them tools to stay out of the reach of the enemy force looking for them.

How do we get them home?

What about sensitive information and equipment aboard the downed aircraft?

We’ve all heard about the infamous USAF Pararescuemen or “PJ’s”, the tactically elite SAR specialists of the military. Primarily these high-speed, low-drag (HSLD in “mil-speak”) guys are a major component in the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). Essentially they are search and rescue personnel with combat or tactical training. Primary mission is to locate, treat and extract assets that have come into dire circumstances. For the most part, that means downed aviators.


“The history of CSAR demonstrates the need for detailed planning and Dedicated efforts for combat rescues during war. The Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is very capable force that conducts tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel. Too often, commanders confuse CSAR with TRAP and task the MEU to conduct CSAR missions. The U.S. Marine Corps’ position on CSAR is that it does not conduct the search in CSAR. However, the limiting factor is the U. S. Marine Corps inadequate capability to conduct recovery. Joint doctrine is vague on assigning CSAR responsibilities contributes to the confusion between CSAR and TRAP. Other service component’s force structure for combat rescue, particularly during OOTW, adds to the JFC’s tasking dilemma. USSOCOM, with its specially equipped aircraft, is the force normally tasked with theater CSAR even though it detracts from their primary mission.” 1

The Marine Corps, in its insistence on being self contained and self reliant for most of it’s needs, has it’s own capabilities. The Marines have always been the United State’s “9-1-1 Force” and it’s Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) are strategically stationed aboard US Navy warships and bases around the world. Essentially, these units are an expeditionary quick-reaction force, used for anything from humanitarian aid to combat missions. An MEU will consist of Marine units from the Aviation (fixed and rotary aircraft) units, Ground (Light Armor, Infantry, Artillery, Heavy Armor) units and Logistics units for a troop strength of approx. 2300 Marines and commanded by a Colonel. In order for a MEU to become “Special Operations Capable” (MEUSOC), they must be proficient in several mission packages. These include:

  • 1 Amphibious Raids
  • 2 Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations
  • 3 Security Operations
  • 4 Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP)
  • 5 Direct Action
  • 6 Humanitarian/Civic Assistance


The training package can take upwards of 18 months to complete prior to deployment.

Therefore, “the primary objective of the MEU(SOC)…is to provide the theater Commander In Chief’s (CINC’s) with an effective means of dealing with the uncertainties of future threats, providing a forward deployed unit that is inherently balanced, sustainable, flexible, responsive, expandable and credible.”

The US Marine Corps has three MEU’s which deploy from the West Coast (MCB Camp Pendleton), three from the East Coast (MCB Camp Lejeune, NC) and one based in Okinawa, Japan (MCB Camp Smedley D Butler)

Although ParaRescue missions are part of a larger, planned rescue operation (CSAR), TRAP missions are spur of the moment and due to the strategic location of a MEU as part of a Battle group, probably more highly reported. They are typically teams of 20-30 Marines and utilize rotary aircraft for the mission.

Two such missions that pop into mind are the rescue of US Air Force Major Kenneth Harney and Capt. Tyler Stark who ejected out of their F-15E over Lybia in March of 2011.

The other one that made headlines was USAF fighter pilot Scott O’Grady who’s F-16 was shot down over Bosnia in June of 1995 and provided the film “Behind Enemy Lines” with its plot.

If there are any readers out there who have current knowledge of USMC TRAP missions and USAF PJ CSAR missions and wish to add to this, please do not hesitate to contact us through the Rescue Report.

1The JFC’s Dilemma: The USMC TRAP mission verses the Combat SAR mission” by Major Matthew D. Redfern, United States Marine Corps

Technical Rope Rescue on a Lobster Boat

ch149 cormorant

I was a Search and Rescue Technician in Greenwood, Nova Scotia, in 2012; a newly appointed Team Leader, meaning I was the ranking SAR Tech in a team of two on a helicopter crew consisting of the two SAR Techs, two Pilots and a Flight Engineer.

On the opening day of lobster fishing season in the Bay of Fundy, I reported to work for what I thought was an administration day, which meant I would be attending to my secondary duties; helping support our training, maintenance and operations, and conducting dry land training. Essentially, I wasn’t on the flying standby crew, so I didn’t expect to go flying.

The Transport and Rescue Standards and Evaluation Team (TRSET) was in town to audit all of our squadron paperwork and records, and generally inspect every aspect of our operation. Part of their job was to evaluate our “in house” standards checkers; the people that evaluate the members of the squadron to ensure performance standards are upheld. TRSET’s task was to observe our standards member conducting a “no notice check ride;” a spontaneous test for a member chosen by the checker. I was chosen to be the member. So my relatively low-key admin day became a trial by fire, and my test anxiety was starting to build.

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The Role of Today’s SAR Medic

the role of today's SAR medic

The role of today’s SAR Medic is a challenging one.

Today’s rescue environment demands the highest levels of prehospital care be delivered to patient side despite the technical environment that might present itself.

Whether it be reducing a shoulder on a multi pitch climb, pulling a lifeless body from a snowy hole and bringing her to a complete recovery with ECMO, giving pain meds to the multi trauma on a Combat SAR (CSAR) mission, or resuscitating a cardiac arrest on a HETS mission, today’s SAR Medic must deliver good medicine, in bad places.

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On SAR Training in Nunavut

Ronin Safety and Rescue has been providing ground search and rescue training to local rescue teams in Nunavut since 2009.

During this time we have flown into every hamlet across the territory, including Grise Fjord, the most northern civilian settlement in Canada.

The course we provide is 6 days long and consist of 4 classroom days and 2 days on the land conducting a practical exercises. We teach the process of search and rescue specifically for Nunavut in terms of who is responsible and the collaborations during any search.

The course has a strong navigation segment that involves map and compass and navigation by GPS.

We teach survival, methods of search and lost person behavior. A half day is also dedicated to bringing in an elder from the local community to teach the students the ways of past in terms of navigating and surviving on the land and even how to deter a polar bear! This has been a great addition as it has help reconnect some of the youth with their elders.

Terrestrial Search and Rescue

Our instructors come from a diverse background, including Canadian Armed Forces, Search and Rescue Technicians, Special Forces, Army and Fire Fighters trained on Ground Search Rescue.

Our Ronin instructors thoroughly enjoy the experience of being in Nunavut. From eating Caribou or drinking from a ten thousand year old ice berg. – We take pride the service we provide and strive for excellence.

Check out our Terrestrial Search and Rescue page for more info on this service