LOUDOUN COUNTY, VA. (AP/WUSA) - A police drone has helped authorities find a missing 92-year-old hunter who had gone missing in a heavily wooded area in Virginia.
The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office says said it took just 20 minutes for the drone to find the missing hunter on Sunday morning. A search team on the ground was then able to go help the man, who they said was found without injuries.
The sheriff's office said it was the first successful use of the new drone, which is equipped with infrared and high resolution cameras.
World War II veteran William McDonnell, 92, has been hunting since he was a boy. The Winchester man said he knows about 100 square miles of the George Washington National Forest.
He wound up spending the night in the woods in freezing temperatures. It got into the 20s on Saturday night and Sunday morning when search crews using a drone found him.
"I never was lost...I knew exactly where I was every minute," said McDonnell.
But McDonnell was the focus of a major search in Shenandoah County.
On Saturday, McDonnell had gone out hunting by himself and failed to come home. After he had told his wife he'd be home around 6 p.m., his cell phone died.
It started getting dark and he took a shortcut straight into some very thick brush. He had already walked some 15 miles of rough terrain.
"I was exhausted. My legs was giving out on me. They felt 92 years old! And I said, 'I'm going to crap out right here,'" said McDonnell.
His wife Joanna was home worried sick.
"Oh my God. I was crying all night long. I didn't get no sleep. I didn't get nothing," siad Joanna McDonnell.
Her husband was not worried at all.
"By that time, I'd already made a place for me to go down and go to sleep," said Bill.
He turned some of that brush into a bed.
92 y/o veteran & hunter Bill McDonnell was NOT lost in the woods. Everybody else thought he was. A new @LoudounSheriff drone's video spotted his blaze orange hat, after he spent a cold night alone on a pile of leaves. How'd he survive? My story at 6 PM on @wusa9 pic.twitter.com/XwYmIuqyjf— Peggy Fox (@PeggyTV) December 19, 2017
"Broke it all up, crossed this way and that way and made me a bed four, five, six inches off of the ground," said Bill explaining that the important thing is to get off of the cold ground.
He also had on very warm clothes and boots made for 60 degrees below. Bill said he actually fell asleep intermittently.
When morning came, Bill got up and realized he wasn't too far from his Jeep. He started walking.
Meanwhile, a Loudoun County Sheriffs Office drone with new search technology, spotted his blaze orange hat as he walked.
The drone is equipped with Project Lifesaver technology that includes antennas to pick up the signal from bracelets worn by people with dementia.
McDonnell was not wearing a bracelet (he does not have dementia) but the infrared cameras and high resolution cameras did help locate Bill McDonnell.
Bill's first clue searches had found him was the German Shepherd from National Forest teams that came running up to him.
"I have nothing but admiration and praise. Appreciation for the search teams," said McDonnell, who was itching to go hunting again with the mile temperatures.
But, he'll have to waiting for his son to accompany him. Joanna is putting her foot down: no more hunting alone anymore.
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