Drones used for first time in a major search at Grand Canyon


Brandon TorresAP Photo

❝ The desperate effort last week to find two hikers who disappeared at the bottom of the Grand Canyon represented the National Park Service’s most extensive use yet of drones in a search-and-rescue mission.

The Grand Canyon is the only national park with its own fleet of unmanned aircraft for locating people who have gotten lost, stranded, injured or killed. Under a program that began last fall, it has five drones and four certified operators.

While the aerial search for the two hikers came up empty, it threw a spotlight on technology that can enter crevices and other rugged spots unreachable by foot while sparing searchers the dangers of going up in a helicopter.

❝ The aircraft were used Monday through Wednesday in the search for LouAnn Merrell, 62, and her step grandson, Jackson Standefer, 14. The park also sent out three ground search teams of about 20 people in all, an inflatable motor boat and a helicopter.

Merrell and Standefer vanished last weekend after losing their footing while crossing a creek near the North Rim. They were on a hike with Merrell’s husband, Merrell Boot Co. co-founder Randy Merrell, and the boy’s mother.

The park soon scaled back the operation and stopped using the drones but continued the search. In a statement, the hikers’ families backed the decision and said they were “still praying for a miracle.”

❝ Other national parks use drones, but for wildlife research. The use of private drones is prohibited in national parks.

James Doyle, a spokesman for the park service’s Intermountain region, said other national parks will probably seek their own drone fleets, too. He said the Grand Canyon’s extreme topography — it is a mile deep — makes it a perfect candidate.

Even unsuccessful, this latest use of new technology cost less and endangered a fewer folks than traditional means. Which, BTW, were revolutionary in their own time.

Wife’s Fitbit leads to husband’s murder arrest


That’s hubby in the middleMark Mirko/AP

❝ A Connecticut man accused in his wife’s murder might have gotten away with it — if not for the victim’s Fitbit fitness tracker and other electronic devices…

Richard Dabate, 40, was charged this month with felony murder, tampering with physical evidence and making false statements following his wife Connie’s December 2015 death at their home in Ellington…

❝ Dabate called 911 reporting that his wife was the victim of a home invasion, alleging that she was shot dead by a “tall, obese man” with a deep voice like actor Vin Diesel’s, sporting “camouflage and a mask,” according to an arrest warrant.

Dabate alleged her death took place more than an hour before her Fitbit-tracked movements revealed. CCTV footage also showed her visiting a local gym the morning she died.

❝ Investigators uncovered text messages between the couple, as well as the suspect and his reported pregnant mistress — thought to be a main motive behind the suspected domestic homicide.

One year before the murder, Dabate texted his wife saying, “I want a divorce,” around the time bank statement records obtained by the Hartford Courant showed credit card charges from hotels, strip clubs and floral purchases for his girlfriend.

❝ State police used an analysis of the home’s “alarm system, computers, cellphones, social media postings and Connie Dabate’s Fitbit to create a timeline that contradicted Richard Dabate’s statements to police,” the warrant cited.

Gotta love it when family gadgets testify against you. 🙂

Climate change stole a Yukon river almost overnight

❝ Its water rerouted by a retreating glacier, the Slims River offers researchers an extreme example of ‘river piracy’ – one with far-reaching implications for northern waters, Ivan Semeniuk explains


Click to enlargeDaniel Shugar

❝ Daniel Shugar knew his research trip was in trouble when he arrived at Kluane Lake last August.

A Canadian geomorphologist based at the University of Washington in Tacoma, Dr. Shugar’s plan had been to study currents at the mouth of the Slims River, which spills down from the mountains of Kluane National Park and feeds Yukon’s largest lake from its southern end.

There was a problem: The river was gone.

❝ In what appears to be a first for the scientific record books, the Slims has become an extreme example of what geographers call “river piracy”: when the drainage of one watershed is stolen by another. But on this occasion the shift occurred virtually overnight.

❝ In a report published…in the journal Nature Geoscience, Dr. Shugar and his colleagues provide a detailed analysis of how an atmosphere warmed by fossil-fuel emissions has led to the river’s dramatic disappearance.

“To me, it’s kind of a metaphor for what can happen with sudden change induced by climate,” said John Clague, who holds a chair in natural hazard research at Simon Fraser University and was a co-author on the report.

While people may think of climate change as a gradual process, its effects need not be, Dr. Clague said, adding, “I think that has important implications for society.”

RTFA. Entertaining as journalism – not the processes which our most ignorant politicians continue to ignore. As one sign said in this past weekend’s March for Science during Earth Day — Accepting science as a fact or not doesn’t change the facts.

Unless you’re a fool. Sorry about that. I know it ain’t polite. But, I’ve been a student of science for several decades. Understanding has changed, knowledge has deepened, even changed direction. Facts don’t change.