When a person goes missing in a perilous place -- say, on the side of a mountain or deep in the woods -- search teams may need help getting the best view of the territory, or may hesitate to put volunteers in danger among the rough terrain.
But a volunteer search and rescue group came up with a solution.
Why not use radio controlled model aircraft? Experts say using one airborne asset can replace at least one hundred searchers on foot, saving precious time and resources when a loved one is lost.
Ingenious, right? Unfortunately, the Federal Aviation Administration disagrees.
The FAA sent an "inconceivable" cease and desist order to Texas Equusearch -- a search and recovery operation -- directing the group to stop all use of radio-controlled model aircraft in life-saving rescue efforts.
"It is incomprehensible that the FAA would for decades raise no issue with respect to recreational operation of these devices but prohibit and deem 'illegal' the exact same use for the purpose of saving the lives of missing children," a letter from Texas Equeesearch's legal counsel reads. The firm Kramer Levin sent the scathing letter to the FAA in March, insisting on a 30-day window for the government agency to reverse or rescind the "unlawful directive ... because of the urgent nature of the humanitarian work performed."
When the FAA didn't send a single response, the group filed suit.
"Since its founding, Texas EquuSearch has coordinated volunteer searchers in over 1,400 searches in 42 states and eight foreign countries, and has found over 300 missing people alive. In other less fortunate cases, the organization's efforts have recovered remains, helping families to end the agony of not knowing their loved one's fate, permitting closure and enabling the human dignity of a funeral."
The suit claims a model aircraft equipped with a camera is "perhaps the single most powerful search-and-rescue tool" in the crucial early hours while searching for a missing person.
The Texas group is a non-profit organization and -- according to Brendan Schulman, Special Council at Kremer Levin -- "coordinates with local law enforcement and other
emergency responders every time their model aircraft is used." In many instances local rescuers have no access to manned aircraft or helicopters and the model aircraft represents the only option for obtaining an aerial view of locations that need to be searched, he said.
The FAA has stated several times that their primary concern is safety. Texas Equusearch counters with its mission statement: "We are committed to providing experienced, organized and ethical volunteer search efforts for missing persons, utilizing the most suitable and up to date technologies and methodologies."
So where is the rub? It seems there is plenty of room for solutions rather than court summons.
If the U.S. Geological Society can use remote controlled aircraft for researching grounds for the likes of the Bureau of Land Management, it seems Texas Equusearch has a more than legitimate suit (Image source: USGS).
According to Schulman, the government agency has yet to respond to the suit. The FAA did, however, respond to TheBlaze when asked for comment:
"The FAA is reviewing the appeal. The agency approves emergency Certificates of Authorization for natural disaster relief, search and rescue operations and other urgent circumstances, sometimes in a matter of hours. We are not aware that any government entity with an existing COA has applied for an emergency naming Texas EquuSearch as its contractor."
Texas Equusearch also famously spent $120,000 in volunteer time and resources to search for Caylee Anthony, who was reported missing for several months before her skeletal remains were found in the woods near her mother, Casey Anthony's home, in Orlando, Florida.
What do you think? If your child was lost, would you want to be able to use remote controlled aircraft to find them?
Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter.