Ash­ley’s dad steps up

John Simp­son is us­ing ex­pe­ri­ence gained in a search for his daugh­ter to help oth­ers who have lost loved ones.

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - FRONT PAGE - LAURA KANE

VAN­COU­VER — Ni­a­gara’s John Simp­son is de­ter­mined to use the novel ex­pe­ri­ence he gained in a trou­bling search for his daugh­ter to help oth­ers who have lost loved ones.

Ash­ley Simp­son went miss­ing in Salmon Arm, B.C., in April 2016, and this spring her fa­ther trav­elled there for a sec­ond time. He be­lieved her body might be along the banks of a river or creek.

The area had been flooded and it was too dan­ger­ous to search on foot, but Simp­son had an idea. He told friends he wanted to bor­row a drone, and was put in touch with a sur­pris­ingly young ex­pert — a 14-year-old boy with a fleet of drones and a strong com­mit­ment to his hobby.

“It re­ally got me think­ing,” said Simp­son in a re­cent phone in­ter­view from his home in Ni­a­gara-on­the-Lake.

“Watch­ing this young man, and his drone … He can go thou­sands of feet in the air and he can hover just three or four inches off the ground. If it was go­ing to come to an ob­sta­cle, it would stop … It’s ab­so­lutely amaz­ing.”

Simp­son hired the boy to search the mouth of the Salmon River where it flows into Shuswap Lake. Al­though his daugh­ter wasn’t found, Simp­son was re­solved to get more drones into the hands of vol­un­teer crews search­ing for miss­ing peo­ple.

Since Ash­ley Simp­son went miss­ing at age 32, her fam­ily has held an an­nual bar­be­cue to fundraise for women’s shel­ters. This year, they added a golf tour­na­ment and her fa­ther used the pro­ceeds to pur­chase four in­ex­pen­sive drones, two of which he sent to a miss­ing-women’s ad­vo­cate in B.C.

RCMP wrapped up a wide-scale search of a Salmon Arm farm last week. Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said hu­man re­mains found at the prop­erty were con­firmed to be­long to one per­son, 18-year-old Traci Genereaux. Her death is be­ing treated as sus­pi­cious but no charges have been laid.

At least four other women, in­clud­ing Simp­son, re­main miss­ing in the re­gion.

Jody Leon of the Splatsin First Na­tion in En­derby, near Salmon Arm, or­ga­nized a search party for the women this spring that cov­ered more than 100 kilo­me­tres. Last week, she re­ceived the drones from Simp­son and held a meet­ing for in­ter­ested vol­un­teers.

Leon said she’s con­nected with a num­ber of ex­pe­ri­enced drone op­er­a­tors, in­clud­ing some with longer­range drones and an­other who will help vol­un­teers get li­censed un­der Trans­port Canada reg­u­la­tions. Their first drone search could be as soon as next week, she said.

“John Simp­son has been a huge teacher for me in terms of re­siliency,” she added. “In any sit­u­a­tion, no mat­ter how painful it is, you can still get up and keep fight­ing.”

Trans­port Canada cur­rently re­quires any­one us­ing drones for any­thing other than fun to ob­tain a special flight op­er­a­tions cer­tifi­cate. Ap­pli­cants for the cer­tifi­cates are eval­u­ated on a case-by-case ba­sis ac­cord­ing to cri­te­ria in­clud­ing pro­posed use, safety record and ex­pe­ri­ence, Trans­port Canada said in a state­ment.

Even those with a cer­tifi­cate are not al­lowed to fly drones out­side their vis­ual line-of-sight. This makes it dif­fi­cult for search and res­cue crews to use them over dis­tances, said Ali Miri, pres­i­dent of UAVi­a­tion Ae­rial Imag­ing So­lu­tions.

Search and res­cue or­ga­ni­za­tions in Kam­loops and Co­quit­lam are par­tic­i­pat­ing in a pi­lot project that al­lows crews to use drones. The project is set to ex­pand to more groups next year, said Andrew Mor­ri­son of Emer­gency Man­age­ment BC.

There are lim­i­ta­tions, in­clud­ing that drones can’t see through the tree canopy and weather con­di­tions and bat­tery life make it dif­fi­cult to search large ar­eas. But they have been use­ful in as­sess­ing haz­ards be­fore vol­un­teers en­ter an area and to pin­point peo­ple’s lo­ca­tions us­ing in­frared cam­eras, Mor­ri­son said.

RCMP have ac­cess to drones but Moskaluk de­clined to say whether they were used in the search for Ash­ley Simp­son. Salmon Arm Search and Res­cue said they con­ducted a three-day ground search.

John Simp­son doesn’t be­lieve drones will now find his daugh­ter. His aim is to help oth­ers who are search­ing for their loved ones, es­pe­cially in the cru­cial first days af­ter they go miss­ing. He even­tu­ally hopes to have a Canada-wide net­work of vol­un­teer drone search teams.

But he said he and his wife won’t ever give up search­ing for their daugh­ter, a jack of all trades who loves to cook, travel and en­ter­tain chil­dren, and who turns 34 on Nov. 15.

“We’ll fight this right to the very end,” said Simp­son. “We’ll bring our daugh­ter home and lay her to rest here.”


Ni­a­gara’s Ash­ley Simp­son, pic­tured in this un­dated hand­out photo, went miss­ing in April 2016 in Salmon Arm, B.C.

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