UPDATE: The body of Chase Martens was found on Saturday, March 26, 2016. More information here.
The boy disappeared from his family’s Austin, Man. property “without a trace,” his father Thomas Martens tearfully told reporters Thursday afternoon, as searchers expanded the radius of where they were searching and also began focusing search efforts on nearby bodies of water.
Hundreds of volunteers in the town, 120 kilometres west* of Winnipeg, have been searching for Chase day and night since he vanished.
RCMP spokesperson Robert Cyrenne told Global News officers trained in drone operation from both Manitoba and Saskatchewan have been brought in to assist with the search, which is now in its fourth day.
“Drones will be up throughout the day and will mapping and photographing the entire search area,” Cyrenne said in an email to Global News Friday.
Cyrenne couldn’t provide specific details on the number or models of drones involved in the search for Chase.
“The Manitoba RCMP has several types available depending on the specific requirements and needs of the operation,” he explained. “An additional drone was also brought in from the Saskatchewan RCMP as it had more advanced mapping capabilities.”
He said the drones are being used in search area of approximately four kilometres.
Commonly referred to as drones, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have become a part of RCMP toolkits across the country.
Saskatchewan, along with British Columbia, was one of the first jurisdictions to employ drones for search and rescue and other public safety efforts back in late 2011.
By the end 2014, there were 60 drones in use across the country, according to the National Post, used in a range of situations including “crash scene investigations, traffic accident reconstructions, search and rescue, major crime investigations and Emergency Response Team calls for service.”
One drone model widely used by the RCMP is the Draganflyer X4-ES. The four-rotor helicopter, according to its manufacturer, Saskatoon-based Draganfly Innovations Inc., is “specifically designed for Public Safety use.”
The lightweight, carbon fiber device is about the size of the suitcase it can be carried in. It weighs a little more than two kilograms, can be equipped with a heat imaging camera and can stay in the air for about 20 to 30 minutes, according to a 2013 post on the RCMP website.
The Draganflyer drones come at a price tag of between $30-33,000 each.
That Draganflyer X4-ES drone was notably used to rescue a 25-year-old driver who wandered away from a car rollover near St. Denis, Sask. in the early hours of May 10, 2013. The man phoned RCMP two hours after getting lost in the dark, after suffering a head injury in the crash.
With the help of the drone, Saskatchewan RCMP Cpl. Doug Green was able to locate the man’s heat signature within a matter of minutes and then direct volunteer firefighters to the man’s location in a snow bank near a tree.
WATCH: Saskatchewan RCMP drone footage from the search for rollover survivor
RCMP in Nova Scotia bought five of the same drones in 2014 and within just a couple of months one of the devices helped police locate a man, woman and 17-month-old child lost in the woods outside Halifax.
While drones such as this helpful for searching in areas at night or where terrain is more difficult, the downfall is that they can only stay in the air for short periods of time and can’t fly in sustained winds of 30 km/h or gust higher than 50 km/h, according to a report in the Halifax Chronicle Herald.
Drones can’t be flown higher than 120 metres above the ground, according to Transport Canada regulations and the operator must keep the vehicle within a line of sight and “cannot fly over people not involved in incidents.”
Non-recreational drone operators are also required to have a Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada.
Clarification:An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Austin is north of Winnipeg.
With files from The Canadian Press