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Drone to the rescue: Hawaii resident saved from Kilauea’s lava flows

Drones are fast becoming an invaluable tool for emergency response teams engaged in search and rescue operations. On the island of Hawaii, for example, the technology is being used right now to move people out of harm’s way as lava continues to pour from Kilauea volcano.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) this week described how live-streamed video from one of its unmanned aerial vehicles helped guide emergency responders to a resident whose home looked to be on the verge of getting swallowed up by the lava flow. Live footage from the flying machine was then assessed by a remote team so that it could direct the rescue group along the safest escape route.

“[The drone] helps prompt and guide evacuations and led to the successful rescue of a resident after a lava pond outbreak sent a very fast pahoehoe flow” down one of the Big Island’s streets, the USGS said in a Twitter post on Wednesday, May 30.

Footage posted with the tweet (below) shows the actual video captured by the drone, which the rescue team was able to use in real time as they tackled the hazardous conditions.

The situation on the ground looks precarious to say the least, and it’s safe to say the resident must have been feeling pretty terrified as the lava flow closed in. The live data from the drone allowed the rescue team to follow a safe path, and if you look carefully you can see their flashlights scanning the scene when they make it to the property. Once they reached the resident, the team was then guided to an available evacuation route, safely removing them from the danger area.

As Discover magazine points out, the recent rescue effort was prompted when a USGS drone flight spotted new, rapid lava flows from one of the volcano’s fissures. The situation became all the more urgent when it was apparent that vital escape routes looked as if they were about to be blocked.

Drone technology is clearly proving a real boon for volcanologists, as well as the emergency management teams that work with them. The remotely controlled flying machines offer a safe way to get up close to active volcanoes, providing geologists with up-to-the-minute data on the direction and extent of lava flows, and valuable information regarding developments on and around the volcano over a longer period of time.

When every second counts, real-time data is everything, and drones are proving to be an indispensable tool in the battle to protect lives on the Big Island as the lava continues to flow.

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Trevor Mogg
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