Drone, social media make flood rescue happen in real time
(CNN) — A North Carolina flood victim trapped in his attic for 14 hours was rescued thanks to a drone operator, the perseverance of family and the cross-country reach of social media.
When floodwaters hit Hope Springs, North Carolina, Chris Williams, a Navy veteran, didn’t get out in time. He retreated to his attic with his dog Lana as the waters rose, CNN affiliate KXAN reported.
He texted his parents on Sunday that he was stuck. They told Chris’ brother, Craig, who was home 1,300 miles away in Austin, Texas. The family immediately started working to alert rescuers in Hope Springs, but to no avail.
“We called local emergency services, we called the fire department, and nothing would go through,” Craig told KXAN.
Meanwhile, Quavas Hart of nearby Fayetteville, North Carolina, sent his drone up to shoot photos of the flooding.
“I said, ‘Why not go out there and see what I can get?'” Hart said.
Hart posted some photos of a flooded neighborhood on Instagram, thinking all the houses had been evacuated.
Craig Williams, still in Texas, searched social media for flood updates using #HopeSprings and noticed Hart’s photo of a neighborhood up to its rooftops in water. Craig sent the photo to his attic-trapped brother Chris, trying to lighten a very bad situation, “just trying to give him a laugh. I was like, ‘Hey man, at least you’re not this guy.’ ”
Chris replied that the neighborhood in the picture was his. He WAS that guy, in one of those houses with deep muddy water approaching the roofs.
Craig, hundreds of helpless miles away, figured whoever had just posted that picture must be near his brother, so he sent drone pilot Hart a message by Twitter: “@ImSoFIRST holy s**t that’s my brothers house…the one with one shutter. Any chance you can boat him out of there? He’s trapped upstairs.”
Hart asked: “@security_craig are u serious ?”
Craig replied: “@ImSoFIRST completely serious, he has an old dog with him that can’t swim. Cumberland county says rescue is not possible yet”
They talked on the phone. Hart didn’t have a boat, but he used his drone to attract the attention of a FEMA search-and-rescue boat crew in the neighborhood.
“I directed them over there to where Chris was. They wouldn’t have checked that house had I not distracted them with my drone,” Hart said.
The FEMA crew pulled up to Chris’ front door, loaded him and Lana the dog into the boat and carried them to safety. The entire operation was captured by the camera on Hart’s drone.
Chris Williams said he “was kind of in disbelief” when his brother described the rescue plan, before the boat arrived. Reaching safety was a sweet feeling.
“My physical reaction when I got on dry land with my dog, it was really similar to some stuff I did while deployed (in the Navy),” Chris said.
Drone pilot Hart said the way things worked out was “mind-blowing.”
“I just don’t know how,” he said. “Power was out, I had batteries. Craig sending the photo and his brother noticing it. Everything lined up.”