MINNEAPOLIS - The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office is using drones as its latest tool during search and rescue operations.
The latest search began Wednesday night after a report of a man jumping off of the I-35W bridge into the Mississippi River.
As usual, boats are being used to search for the man, but also a drone.
"This is an opportunity to bring someone home that may be lost," said Eric Herman.
Herman is a commercial airline pilot, but he also volunteers helping the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office fly drones.
"This is a great tool for us anytime we have a lost person," said Herman.
Last year, KARE 11 first reported that the department was testing drones. Sheriff Rich Stanek said the department went through more than a year of testing and passed FAA requirements. It is only cleared to use drones for search and rescue operations.
Last spring, crews used a drone to search for a missing University of Minnesota student. In November, teams used it to look for a missing man on Lake Waconia in Carver County.
"They can get places that the boats have a really hard time to get to," said Stanek. He said a second drone was ordered by the department and he believes the technology will help save taxpayers money by not using the State Patrol's helicopter as much, which can cost $600-$1,000 per hour. He did emphasize that drones are not a replacement for helicopters.
"There's a time and a place for a helicopter, but we can use this [drone] for 20-25 minutes at a time, land it fairly easily, swap out the batteries and it's back up searching the river bank," said Stanek.
Saving money, but more importantly, hopefully saving someone.
Each time a drone is used, the team must call the FAA and let them know where they're going to be and why they're going to be there.
Stanek said one drone costs between $5,000-$7,000. The department has 17 trained volunteer pilots to operate the unmanned aircraft.