Decorah Fire Department in Iowa uses UAS to find six people stranded along the Yellow River



In Eastern Iowa, the Allamakee County Sheriff's office enlisted the help of the Decorah Fire Department and its UAS to help locate six people who were stranded along the Yellow River near Effigy Mounds, after they got lost while tubing.  

It took just 10 minutes for the UAS to locate the first three of the six stranded, after they were spotted using a heat seeking camera that was attached to the UAS.

Decorah Firefighter Zack Kerndt, who was at home when he got the call to put his UAS skills to work, says that a foot-search for the missing people would have been very difficult, which made the UAS that much more valuable.

“With the vegetation off of a tree because a tree is a living thing so it is producing heat and you cannot see through the canopy cover,” Kerndt says via

“So luckily they were on the river bank and we were able to spot them.”

A two-way radio tied to the UAS was used to locate the three remaining missing people, after it was dropped down and used to communicate with the stranded people who had already been found.

“Without that radio getting to them we wouldn't have known that there were three other people that were actually on the river with them,” Kerndt adds.

​All six of the missing people were deemed healthy upon being found.

This was the first time that a UAS was used by Allamakee County first responders. The Allamakee County first responders do not have their own UAS—which is why they called the Decorah Fire Department—but that could soon change according to Corey Snitker from Allamakee County Emergency Management.

“We're looking at actually purchasing one down the road. I know a lot of counties in Iowa are doing that now,” Snitker says.

“Especially given our terrain we have a lot of recreational people. We have a state park. So we have people who are in heavy vegetative areas. With our hills and ridge lines it's very easy for somebody to get lost.”