Putnam County Sheriff Robert L. Langley, Jr., reports that on June 9, 2019, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office provided assistance during a rescue operation within the Hudson Highlands State Park. Two hikers had called for help after becoming stranded on a steep precipice, approximately one half mile south of Breakneck Ridge in the Town of Philipstown.
The Cold Spring Fire Department and the New York State Park Police located the two hikers shortly after 5:00 p.m. but the extreme terrain prevented them from affecting a rescue. A command post and staging area were established near the Cornish Estate Trailhead, forcing the closure of Route 9D. The Orange County Technical Rescue Team was summoned to the scene due to their expertise in dangerous “high-angle” rescue operations. The Team is comprised of firefighters from the City of Newburgh Fire Department, Port Jervis Fire Department, West Point Fire Department and the Sparrowbush Engine Company.
Upon arrival, the Orange County Technical Rescue Team was initially hindered by their inability to adequately evaluate the terrain. The Team’s Commanding Officer, Orange County Deputy Fire Coordinator of Special Operations Tony Kurtz, requested an aerial view of the stranded hikers in order to facilitate the “planning and retrieval mission”. His goal was to mitigate the risk to his team as they descended from above on ropes.
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office was asked to assist with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as “drones”. Sergeant Matthew Monroe and Deputy William Rossiter responded to the scene. Sergeant Monroe, Commanding Officer of Flight Operations, assessed the situation and authorized the use of two unmanned aircraft. Both UAS, a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise and a DJI M200 Matrice, were airborne within minutes and piloted to the area above the stranded hikers. Deputy Coordinator Kurtz was provided with a live-feed from the UAS cameras that enabled him to inspect the terrain features in great detail. He and his team quickly finalized their plan began their mission.
Shortly before 10:00 p.m., several firefighters descended the cliff and recovered two male hikers. Neither was injured. The operation concluded at 10:17 p.m.
Sergeant Monroe and Deputy Rossiter are among four members of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office who are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to pilot unmanned aircraft during public safety emergencies. They operate three specialized Unmanned Aerial Systems, purpose-built for lifesaving missions. The aircraft are equipped with advanced GPS systems, cameras capable of 180x zoom, FLIR thermal imaging sensors, powerful search lights and public address speakers. Arrays of high-tech sensors provide stability in challenging weather conditions and warn the remote pilots of nearby manned-aircraft.
Sheriff Langley would like to thank and commend all individuals involved in this joint rescue effort.