Oregon mountain photographer rescued after sending SOS text via camera drone

B.R. Shenoy

Casey Ryan’s quick thinking and drone skills helped him get rescued after getting stuck in a snowdrift while trying to help another stranded driver.

Drone In FlightPhoto byBrodie from Burst

When things go wrong in the great outdoors, quick thinking can make all the difference. For Casey Ryan, a photographer, and mountain-goer, his drone skills became his savior when he found himself stranded in the wilderness.

Drone to the Rescue

Casey Ryan's experience on January 29th, 2023, began as a winter hike into the mountains of Willamette National Forest in Oregon with a friend.

A photographer and frequent mountain-goer, Ryan was familiar with the roads in the area and believed that everything was okay, despite the icy conditions. However, Ryan came upon a stranded driver of a Mercedes van and offered to help tow the van out of the snow.

Ryan's truck slid into a snowdrift as he reversed to hook up his vehicle to the van, leaving him and his friend stranded in the wilderness.

The situation was dire; it was already late afternoon, the temperature was falling, and the snow was turning to ice on Ryan's wheels. They tried to dig their way out, but the snow was too deep and compacted.

As night fell, Ryan and his friend decided to hold a meeting to decide what to do next. Ryan's friend suggested they use his drone to fly above the tree line and send an SOS text message to Ryan's wife. Ryan then attached an iPhone to the underside of his camera drone, creating what he referred to as a "drone call."

The drone was not designed to carry a phone, but Ryan managed to fly it high enough to grab a signal, and the SOS text was successfully sent to his wife. They then settled in for the night, hoping for rescue.

The following day, the Lane County Sheriff's Office arrived to rescue them, having been alerted by Ryan's wife. Jason Bowman, a search-and-rescue coordinator with the Lane County Sheriff's Office, called Ryan's drone call "the most unique way" he'd ever seen somebody call for help.


Ryan’s experience is a powerful reminder of the importance of preparedness and resourcefulness when exploring the great outdoors. Whether you’re a seasoned mountain-goer like Ryan or a beginner hiker, it’s essential to be aware of any outdoor activity’s potential risks and challenges, especially in harsh winter conditions.

This means bringing appropriate gear and equipment, planning your route, and knowing how to call for help in an emergency.

One valuable lesson from Ryan’s story is the potential usefulness of drone technology in emergencies. While drones are often associated with recreational or commercial use, they can also be a valuable tool for search and rescue operations, particularly in remote or hard-to-reach areas. 

As technology advances, we can expect to see more innovative uses of drones in emergencies, including communication, navigation, and even medical aid.

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20230314172106/https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/03/12/phone-drone-rescue-oregon-mountain/

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