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Remotely piloted aircraft systems




A drone operated by Steve Fines, of Fines Aerial Imaging, used heat-seeking technology to find Ethan and his dog at about 1:50 a.m. in a cornfield a little more than a mile east of his home.

Note: Unauthorized drone operators who interfere with emergency response operations can be fined up to $20,000. The FAA approves emergency response drone flights through its Special Governmental Interest (SGI) process, which is open to applicants with an existing Part 107 Remote Pilot certificate or Certificate of Authorization.

Ethan and his dog were lying down in the field when the drone spotted him. Ethan was cold (temperatures were in the 30s that evening) but was otherwise in good health after being found.

Fines used a DJI Matrice 210RTK V2 with a Zenmuse XT2 thermal camera during the search. Sending up a drone with a thermal camera is a more efficient, cost-effective, and quicker way to scan an area for signs of life than using a large, expensive helicopter. When searching at night, an infrared-equipped drone enables you to see things that you can’t with the naked eye.

With his drone, Fines was able to search over areas of wet ground and dense vegetation that were hard to reach on foot. However, Fines says he wouldn’t have been able to find Ethan without the help of those searching on the ground.

While I was running the camera that found him and some of the news stories have focused on that, I only knew in which direction to look because volunteers on the ground had found a footprint that pointed me in the right direction. I knew which areas had already been searched because of the excellent coordination of the Sherburne County Sheriff.

—Steve Fines, Fines Aerial Imaging

This video posted to the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page shows the moment Ethan and his dog were led out of the cornfield.

Sheriff Joel Brott credits the massive community effort that brought hundreds of volunteers to the area to help search for Ethan.

“This truly was the epitome of a community caring for its own,” Brott said. “To see the outpouring of support in such a short time period to come out and help find this boy and his dog is heartwarming.”

Area law enforcement agencies provided multiple canines to assist in the search as well as drones and a helicopter from the State Patrol.