Success of drone deployment which saved Abergele man's life


July 01, 2021

A North Wales Police officer has spoken of the success of his newly formed drone unit that saved the life of a missing man just weeks after launching.

Roy Giblin, 82, from the Abergele area, was found by drone pilots on the evening of Tuesday June 8, 18 hours after being reported missing. His family say without the assistance of the drone, “he didn’t stand a chance.”

Search and rescue teams and the RNLI searched the waters off North Wales, with the National Police Air Service (NPAS), police officers and the drone unit involved in the search.

Mr Giblin was eventually located in an overgrown grassy area near to Abergele train station, using a drone deployed by the recently formed unit.

The full-time pilot team of five officers was launched on April 1, providing a new level of aerial cover to North Wales Police, with assistance from six original part-time pilots. With the ability to search close to the ground and carry out a detailed imaging inspection from above – something a helicopter is unable to do – the aircraft was able to oversee where officers were searching on foot to locate Mr Giblin.

Lead pilot Sergeant Paul Terry said it was “very likely” Mr Giblin’s life was saved using the modern technology.

 “I’d say this was the most significant find we’ve had in the two months since launching,” he said.

“What’s critical about that story is that we were working with local officers who were doing a huge amount of foundational work looking for CCTV sightings in the last location that we’d seen him and manually on the ground searching with teams looking across the area.

“As we searched along the train line, we had a sighting of him in some very long grass around 4ft high, away from the area where the ground team were searching.

“But because we had aerial cover, it could capture an area wider than what they were searching for visually.
“It was when we saw a disturbance in the pattern of grass, we noticed his head poking out over the really long grass. “If the drone hadn’t of been there, Mr Giblin wouldn’t have been seen. It’s very likely he wouldn’t have been located that night and his life was saved because of that tactic.”

Thanking those involved in the search, Mr Giblin’s granddaughter, Lauren Delaney, 30, said: “As soon as I heard the news that he’d been found, I just burst into tears. It’s overwhelming. If they’d not had the drone, he would probably have still been there now, we wouldn’t have had a clue where he was, and he wouldn’t even be here. Without that drone, he didn’t stand a chance.”

She added: “After all that time, as the hours were going on, I had the worst in my head. As much as I was trying to stay positive, I also had to accept that he was out alone in the night and it might not have been a nice outcome. We had to prepare ourselves for the worst.

“It was really stressful, but the police have been absolutely amazing. There are no words for the gratitude we have for everyone that was involved. They literally pulled out every stop to find him.”

The new drone team was created to bring a new advantage to the force in tackling crime, making safer neighbourhoods and saving lives.  It works alongside the National Police Air Service (NPAS) to provide additional air support to the force in the same way NPAS has traditionally done.

But in addition to NPAS, the team provides a wider range of functions, including evidential scene photography and video, internal building searches, oversight for urgent and pre-planned warrants and filming reconstructions.

Another recent successful operation included locating a critically injured man who had fallen from height in a quarry.

The team has also assisted in the discovery of a £1.5 million cannabis cultivation; locating a fleeing suspect in possession of drugs and weapons and guiding dog handlers to intercept offenders after they had fled from a vehicle during a pursuit.

Since launching in April, the team have been deployed to more than 250 incidents and logged over 50 flying hours. The DJI M300 RTK drones boast thermal camera and powerful 200x zoom lens with a flight time of up to 45 minutes and the ability to fly in rain and winds up to 33mph. The aircraft also provide aerial oversight, thermal imaging and powerful search functions.

“The helicopter can do all of these things too, but at a greater expense,” Sgt Terry added.

“We can be deployed alongside officers on the ground to multiple locations during an operation over a number of hours, carrying out multiple flights throughout an operation and at much lower cost.
“We can also pre-programme the drone to fly a particular route to make sure we are covering all of the search area accurately.

“The use of these aircraft will be used to serve the public in making North Wales a safer place to live.”