Fa­ther of miss­ing woman fundraises for drone searches

Tech­nol­ogy can aid in re­cov­ery ef­forts by nav­i­gat­ing through tough ter­rain

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - LAURA KANE

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 in April 2016, and this spring her fa­ther trav­elled there from On­tario 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, Ont.

“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 last year at age 32, her fam­ily in On­tario 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 longer-range 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 B.C.

Along the 75-kilo­me­tre stretch be­tween Ver­non and Si­ca­mous, at least five women have van­ished in the last 20 months. Ash­ley Simp­son, 27, was re­ported miss­ing April 30, 2016.

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