Trapped Leilani Estates Resident Guided to Safety by Drone

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This video shows an Unmanned Aircraft Systems being used for aerial reconnaissance to assist in getting messages to emergency responders (seen using flashlights in the video) to rescue the resident. VC: U.S. Geological Survey and Office of Aviation Services, Department of the Interior, with support from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Live stream technology provided by NASA Ames.

The Department of Interior Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Kīlauea response team was conducting mapping missions in the lower East Rift Zone to monitor lava flow advancement rates and direction toward Highway 132 and populated areas on May 27, 2018.

Around 7 p.m., the team launched an aircraft to assess the area in the northeast corner of Leilani Estates and identified a new outbreak of pāhoehoe lava that was very rapidly moving north down Luana Street into a residential area.

The team notified the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and field operations of the flow and a need to evacuate the area between Makamae and Nohea Streets to the north of Leilani Avenue.


The team began providing live video coverage of the flow’s progress to emergency officials in the EOC, who dispatched police and fire units to clear residents off the street.

The UAS team continued to provide live coverage of the breakout and EOC personnel were able to use the information to guide their evacuation actions, including dispatching an emergency alert notification to anyone in the area.

During the preflight of that aircraft, the team overheard radio transmissions that there was a civilian trapped at their residence on Luana Street.

The team confirmed the location of the residence and flew into the area to assess if we could be of assistance.


The individual was spotted and instructed to “follow the drone to safety.”

The individual began moving through the jungle toward Nohea Street, where the drone was hovering.

While he was making his way through the jungle, the UAS team was able to track him visually (he was using a cell phone flashlight) and information about his location was relayed to the ground searchers.

After about 10 minutes of providing direction information to both the stranded person and the first responders, the search team was able to make contact and guide him to safety.


The UAS team stayed onsite until the crews were clear of the area.

The UAS team, field operations, and EOC worked the situation for 2.5 hours.

In addition to the SAR mission, the UAS team was able track the rate of advancement of the flow along Nohea Street and provide real time information to field operations and live video feed to the EOC regarding the rate and direction of the flow as well as any structures destroyed.

Coordination between field ops, the ground searchers, dispatch, the EOC and the DOI UAS team proved to be very effective.

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