71 seconds: The time it took an Erath County game warden and thermal drone to find a missing man.
When a 90-year-old man wandered away from his home in Clairette on Nov. 3 2022, a dispatcher with the Erath County Sheriff’s Office called Michael Hummert for help.
Hummert, a Texas game warden who had just become certified to operate a drone, had one of two thermal drones in Central Texas and rescuers believed it would be key in helping them locate the missing man.
Time, after all, was of the essence.
“It was dark, cold and raining and rescuers had been searching for nearly two hours by the time I got there,” Hummert told Beneath the Surface News. “Once I launched the drone, it took only one minute and 11 seconds to find him.
“It’s a pretty powerful tool.”
The thermal drone, which can detect body heat, spotted the elderly man hunched down in a group of trees.
Hummert and his drone have been summoned to help find other missing persons in Central Texas, and more recently, assisted police during a string of bomb threats directed at schools in Stephenville ISD.
Hummert said the drone was used to fly over buildings so law enforcement could safely check the rooftops for anything suspicious, and the drone’s feed allowed police to monitor traffic in school zones.
The Texas Game Warden Drone Program started in Austin in 2018, and participation is on a volunteer-only basis.
“I went through the training in spring of 2022 and by that fall I was issued a thermal drone,” Hummert said.
Hummert has been a game warden for 15 years and is one of 55 across the state. He has spent the past five years in Erath County.
Hummert said drones are an invaluable resource that have been used to fight wildfires, help police reconstruct vehicle accidents, provide aerial views during a natural disaster, monitor large crowds and assist with search and rescue operations.
The Texas Game Warden Drone Program is still relatively new and more equipment is needed to keep it flying.
The program is funded strictly by donations.
“The easiest way to give is through Gear Up for Game Wardens, which provides specialty equipment for Texas game wardens,” Hummert said.
Individuals, groups or businesses that would like to make a donation to the Erath County drone program (Region VII), can do so by clicking here.