Signi Search Dogs and H2O Drones: a collaboration


Signi Search Dogs is a foundation that searches for missing persons. Recently, there has been a cooperation between this search and rescue team and H2O Drones. Dutch waters are not always safe for divers and sometimes unpredictable. “That’s where an underwater drone comes in handy,” says Esther van Neerbos from Signi Search Dogs.

“We are a foundation that locates missing people. We started with dogs and eventually built up a whole team, because we don’t just want to locate people, we want to bring them home,” says Van Neerbos. It is simply not always easy for divers to operate safely anywhere in the Netherlands. “That’s why the use of underwater drones is valuable for us,” adds Van Neerbos.

She says that working with the drones has gone smoothly. “We used it once to find a missing person and to look for things that could serve as evidence in a murder case,” Van Neerbos says. The underwater drone also found evidence there, which is now being investigated by the police.

Large and deep ponds often take a long time to cover, she says. “That’s why we used a drone to cover more area in a shorter time. The lake was 23 metres deep and then it’s perfect to have a drone that can swim everywhere quickly.” She goes on to tell of a mission that took place near a shipping channel. The same kind of mission that could be dangerous for divers. “Then, if a ship approached, we could just retrieve the drone. Otherwise, shipping traffic had to be stopped there.”

The advantage of drones is that they can sometimes get to places where a person’s safety is at risk. “We also recently had a missing person stuck in a weir. That is already an unsafe place for people in general. It was difficult for divers to get there, but the drone can reach them safely. It’s nice when it can be done safely,” says Van Neerbos.

The insight the drone provides during a mission is valuable, Van Neerbos agrees. “It’s just super imaging what the drone does. The images are crisp and the sonar works well. We had some experience with sonar ourselves, so working with a drone is even easier.” H2O Drones also provided the foundation with courses so they could familiarise themselves with the underwater drones.

“A combination of our work and that with the drone is almost perfect. When we have a hint of an interesting research area with the boat, we set a buoy there so that the drone can investigate the area quickly and efficiently,” says Van Neerbos. “Then, when we have found something of value, we have to investigate it in sections. We can’t keep the divers underwater all the time. A drone, on the other hand, can, and if we have found something important, we can investigate undisturbed for a couple of hours,” she adds.

Van Neerbos says that working with H2O Drones makes the job much easier. “The underwater drone serves as a kind of link between the underwater world and what is happening above water. It gives more dynamics,” she says.

She talks about her work with passion. “Our foundation has been around for about sixteen years, but we have been doing this work for almost thirty years. The most important motive for us is that we can give the bereaved some form of reassurance in dealing with a missing person. That’s why our team is so motivated and we always give our best.”

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