Photographer uses drone with thermal camera to find missing 6-year-old boy

24 Oct

Photographer Steve Fines helped save the life of a 6-year-old boy who went missing last week on a subfreezing night in Sherburne County, Minnesota.

A group of roughly 600 people showed up to search for Ethan and his dog. As temperatures dropped below 30ºF that evening, the situation became increasingly dire. ‘I heard about the search at 8:00 pm and arrived on site about 9:00 pm,’ Fines tells DPReview. He arrived carrying his DJI m210RTK v2 drone equipped with an XT2 dual thermal camera.

An annotated image shared by Fine showing the location of Ethan and his dog being rescued.

Since Fines uses the drone for business purposes, he already had 10-12 sets of batteries charged and ready to go. ‘I went to the command center and introduced myself. They asked me not to fly until the state police helicopter left the area, which happened about 10:30 pm,’ Fines told us. He also emphasized how important it is for drone operators to yield the right of way to helicopters and other emergency response efforts. Interfering with these critical operations is against the law and can result in fines upwards of $ 20,000. Drone operators need to coordinate with local authorities first before getting involved.

Once Fines received clearance for takeoff, he said ‘I quickly started flying and it was by using a programmed flight path that I could efficiently cover a lot of ground. After quite a few false positives – otters, deer, bear – at 1:40 am, I spotted the six-year-old and his dog. By 1:50 am, a ground rescue team made it to his location and I watched them pick him up on the thermal monitor.’

While Fines has received a lion’s share of the credit from local news station KARE 11 for the success of the rescue, he took to social media and gave thanks to the coordinated efforts led by the County Sheriff along with the hundreds of volunteers that helped guide him in the right direction.

This thermal image shows a stream of volunteers walking a path to find missing 6-year-old Ethan.

While I was running the camera that found him […] I only knew in which direction to look because volunteers on the ground had found a footprint that pointed me in the right direction. I knew which areas had already been searched because of the excellent coordination of the Sherburne County Sheriff. I had other volunteers running radios to coordinate ground search parties – the people moving across really rough ground to find him. There were 600 of us that found Ethan that night.

Below is a video from KARE 11 showing more behind-the-scenes footage of the rescue and a thank you from Ethan:

You can check out more of Fines’ work via his website and follow Fines Aerial Imaging on Facebook and Instagram.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (

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