In Search for Blaze Bernstein

By January 9, 2018 No Comments

Similar to blockchain and cryptocurrencies, it’s undeniable that drones are here to stay. From startups to large corporations, drone companies span the fields of hardware, software, delivery, topographical and data processing. The list goes on.

I’m not here to talk about lists though, I’m here to talk about the areas in which drones are making leaps and bounds, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Specifically, I’m here to address the progress being made in Search and Rescue (SAR) operations by UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles).

If you’ve seen even an inkling of news recently, you’ve heard about Blaze Bernstein, the 19 year old UPenn student who went missing last Tuesday. He was last seen at Borrego Park in Lake Forest, CA, where he walked into the Borrego Wilderness area, yet to return. Since his disappearance, SAR dog, human, and helicopter search teams haven’t turned up much to lead them to finding Blaze. A Bernstein family friend, after getting the green light to coordinate an independent Drone Search and Rescue operation, reached out to drone pilots through Facebook, where he received plenty of willing, helpful pilots that are currently devoting their time and personal drones to create aerial footage of the search area. These videos are being sent to a central database where law enforcement and volunteers can pick through them with a fine-tooth comb on larger screens.

Kent Nerhus, a member of K2 Unmanned Systems, a Huntington Beach drone manufacturing company, led a team of drone operators who mapped areas of the search grid today. Hopefully the footage they created of Whiting Canyon will turn up signs that can lead to the resolution of Blaze Bernstein’s mysterious disappearance. With the family and volunteers setting up a central location for the day’s drone search efforts at Borrego Park, spirits and optimism remained high that Blaze will soon be found.


This isn’t the first time that drones have been used in Search and Rescue operations. The Grand Canyon National Park has a fleet of five drones and four certified operators that were first deployed in April 2017 and continue to aid SAR operations in the park. The FAA, understanding the significance that drones and their operators can play in search missions,  issued 137 airspace authorizations shortly after Hurricane Harvey to help search efforts. Soon after, 132 airspace authorizations were issued in Florida following the onset of Hurricane Irma. FAA Administrator Michael Fuerta commented on the importance of drones in the hurricane search efforts, recognizing that “every drone that flew meant that a traditional aircraft was not putting an additional strain on an already fragile system.” During his speech at InterDrone, Fuerta remarked “the hurricane response will be looked back upon as a landmark in the evolution of drone usage in this country.”

From National Parks, to massive areas affect by hurricanes, to individual search efforts, drones are assisting Search and Rescue personnel, making these operations more efficient and effective. We hope to soon see Blaze reunited with his family and are happy that drones may be crucial in getting this done.

Written by Preston Summers


Licensed drone pilot Kent Nerhus sets up his quadcopter at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Foothill Ranch on Sunday, Jan 7, 2018. He was one of several volunteers helping to look for Blaze Bernstein, 19, who went missing from the area late Tuesday night on Jan. 2 . (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)