MARSHALL, Mich. (WOOD) — Calhoun County deputies turned to a drone with heat-seeking technology to find a man who didn’t come home from his afternoon walk Sunday.

About six hours passed between the time a 73-year-old man left his home east of Marshall and when his wife called 911. When first responders arrived, the weather and landscape both made it difficult for deputies and their dogs to search and impossible for a helicopter to take off.

Deputies used a drone with an infrared camera to find a missing man in this swampy area in Marengo Township. (Jan. 24, 2023)
The swampy area where the man went missing.

“The weather conditions were extremely cold, poor. The terrain was poor — it was a swampy area. So that really brought great concern to the deputies,” Calhoun County Sheriff Steve Hinkley said. “We realized that we needed to use every resource and that time was very important to locate him.”

One of those resources is a drone equipped with technology that gave searchers a crucial view of the scene. One of the departments’ two drones has an infrared Flir camera, which picks up heat signatures from above. Detective Sgt. David Homminga said the late-night rescue call in a swampy area was a prime use case. Deputies successfully located the missing man when the camera showed readings from his body heat.

A Calhoun County Sheriff's Office drone is equipped with an infrared camera. (Jan. 24, 2023)
Deputies demonstrate the drone’s infrared camera.

“If you were to do it in a forest, you just got to pick up that one hot spot, so we needed to find out what that hot spot was. We were able to do that,” Homminga said.

Deputies found the man in waist-deep water. He was carried on a backboard 100 yards and rushed to the hospital, where he later died.

The drones, which the department started using the drones in 2018, buy first responders more time to approach calls as rescue missions rather than recoveries, Hinkley said.

“We have enough operators to be able to operate those drones and be able to be in a position to better serve the public and better rescue… if that’s available,” he said.