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Seeing in the dark

By Harold Bearden
Thursday, October 2, 2014 | 6:10 AM

In March of this year, three young girls walked into a wooded area just off 12th Avenue below Nichols Funeral Home, looking for a water fall. As darkness fell, they became lost. Unable to locate the girls, family members called 9-1-1 and help came in the form of a special Alabama State Trooper helicopter. The Bell 407, sometimes referred to as a Bell Jet Ranger, flew to Haleyville and with general directions from fire and rescue workers on the ground, began an aerial search using onboard infrared senors made by a company called FLIR Systems. FLIR is an acronysm for Forward Looking Infrared and the name of the company which has been making infrared equipment for the military for decades. Fortunarly, the equipment and technology has been widely adopted for use in the civilian world.

The Alabama State Troopers operate FLIR equiped helicopters out of Cullman, Birminham and Fairhope. These helicopters are used primarily to locate missing people or even criminals who try to escape law enforcement officers by hiding in heavily wooded areas. A specially equiped Bell 417 helicopter, stationed in Montgomery, has rescue hoist equipment to facilitate rescue by air if a person is located in an area inaccessable by ground. 

Trooper Pilot Mike Manly and Tactical Flight Officer Greg Horn from the Cullman base, have flow 15 rescue missions this year. Their most recent was locating a couple of people who had washed ashore and became lost after tipping a canoe in a river. Manly and Horn recently returned to Haleyville to demonstrate to local firemen and rescuers how their equipment works. The heat from a human body can be detected even from a great distance. The troopers can notify ground searchers of the exact GPS coordinates so they can be quickly located on the ground as the little girls were in March. For more information about FLIR see http://www.flir.com/US/. 

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