It was more than three years ago when a British Columbia woman went missing in the Enderby area of the North Okanagan. She had last been seen carrying a pink suitcase. Drone operator Shane Michaels took note.

Using Facebook, Michaels, based in northern Alberta, started an online group of volunteer drone operators and would connect them to families who were looking for lost loved ones. His web of volunteer operators stretched across the country and into the United States, and would step in with their drones when local SAR and police agencies exhausted official resources.

The case of the missing B.C. woman with the pink suitcase sparked an idea in Michaels’ head.

“I designed a piece of software that goes through every pixel in every single image and whether it’s a pink shirt or blue runners, it goes through every image and locates all those images and it circles that target,” said Michaels.

After a couple of years developing the software, he has found success when the remains of a missing person in Wisconsin were found by a local drone operator using his software.

Michaels is in the process of setting up a not-for-profit organization named ‘Wings of Mercy’ so that donations can fund the purchase of suitable remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS) that be stationed at various places across the country to aid in SAR activities.

“We are always looking for people to help us out. It’s all volunteer and it’s all donation,” said Michaels. “We do what we can with what we have.”

Further information about Wings of Mercy can be found on their Facebook page.