March 26, 2023 – 11:30 AM
A Kamloops woman lost her dog in the mountains near Kamloops and it took infrared drone technology and a group of determined volunteers to bring it back to safety.
Kimberly Loucks is recovering with her dog, Winstin, after a hectic, sleepless week of worry and work covering ground in steep mountainous terrain.
“We are spending hours together just resting and sleeping a lot,” she said.
The ordeal started on Monday evening, March 20 when Loucks was visiting friends at Red Lake, a rural area near Kamloops. Their dogs were out on the property, contained by a fence, but a snowdrift against the fence was high enough for Loucks’ dog to climb up and escape.
It wasn’t long before Louck noticed her dog was gone and immediately started searching the road, mountain and nearby creek with the help of friends. The search continued until midnight, with no sign of the dog.
“I couldn’t sleep or eat, we are really attached,” Loucks said. “The next morning I got up at dawn and started calling his name. I thought I heard him howl but wasn’t sure.”
Friends and family arrived to help and a neighbour found the dog’s tracks “chasing a deer” on a game trail. The group made a new plan, spread out and continued the search with the help of handheld radios for communication.
“Three of us went back up the mountain and covered different areas, it was very steep and icy and we were crawling up in some places.”
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Hummingbird Drones, a drone company in Kamloops, was brought to search with their heat detection and infrared capabilities and ability to search large areas, but nothing was found that night.
“It was a stressful time, the dog had been missing for days, but everyone there was calm and determined,” said drone operator Kora Vanderlip. “It was a good working environment.”
The next day Loucks and family members went up in a helicopter to search. Some spots were treed-in and impossible to see through and some were blocked by cliffs. Loucks saw some deer and a moose. Exhausted, she went home to shower and rest.
“Emotions set in, I was crying and sobbing and tired,” she said. “I didn’t know if he was hurt and I couldn’t help him. And he was not home waiting for me. I called my mom to calm me down.”
That night the drone company came back to search the creek valley, where a searcher reported he heard a whimpering sound. Some hikers went up searching but returned after darkness fell. The drone company found a heat source near the creek.
“We didn’t know what it was, it just looked like a dot on the infrared screen,” Loucks said.
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Searcher Eric Windhorst went back up the mountain in the dark armed with a light, bear bangers, a horn, and a radio, while the drone followed him overhead.
Standing at a remote control station, the drone crew watched their monitor with live feed for signs of heat.
“We could watch the hiker approaching the dot through the camera,” Vanderlip said. “It was a happy, joyful moment when we realized it was the dog.”
It took some time for the hiker to convince the dog to come close enough to grab onto its collar and pull him off a ledge.
“His voice came through the radio, ‘Winstin say hi to your mom,” Loucks said. “I broke down and there was a lot of cheering around me. They took a couple tumbles on their way down and got some minor cuts. We had food and water ready, and the fireplace was going. He was excited to see me with crazy adrenaline energy.”
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Vanderlip has been a certified drone operator since 2019 and has been working with Hummingbird Drone for over a year doing search and rescue but it’s the first time she has done an infrared night rescue for a pet.
“This is the best outcome we could have had,” she said. “Going into it we just want to do everything we can and provide as much value as possible.”
Loucks is grateful for the people who came out to search for her dog and overwhelmed by the support she received getting it home safely.
“I’m so happy and relieved he is physically alright but mentally he isn’t,” Loucks said. “We’re taking time to rest at home. He’s sore and won’t leave my side.”
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