University News

SUU Aviation Uses Night Vision to Aid in Search for Missing Child

Published: March 09, 2018 | Category: Academics

search and rescue iron county missing boy helicopterThe Southern Utah University Aviation Program assisted in the search and rescue of a 6-year-old child missing for more than nine hours on March 8, 2018. Flying a Robinson R44 equipped with night vision technology, flight instructor Daniel Garcia was able to see through the darkness and help locate the missing child.

Zayden Mortenson was first reported missing at 6:45 p.m. Thursday. He was shed hunting with family members near Lund, Utah, according to a statement released by Iron County Sheriff's Lt. Del Schlosser. A highly functioning autistic child, Mortenson wandered away from the group and was last seen shortly before 5 p.m.

Sheriff’s deputies, Iron County Search and Rescue teams, K-9 units, and SUU’s Aviation program were all called in to assist in the search. The child was found early Friday morning and has been reunited with his family.

“SUU’s Aviation courses include scenario-based training that prepares both instructors and students to aid in these kinds of searches,” said Robert Paul, director of Student Outreach for SUU Aviation. “There is no better training for our students than to get up in the air on real life missions, which is why we work closely with the Iron County Sheriff's Department and operate as a Search and Locate Team.”

helicopter aviation night vision gogglesCurrent aviation student Alex Lebaron rode with Garcia to search for the lost boy. Graduating this summer, Lebaron is prepared for his aviation career through his involvement with real life missions throughout his time as a student.

"SUU's Aviation Program provides unique opportunities unlike any other program,” said Lebaron. “I feel very fortunate to be a part of this organization where I have the chance to receive highly specialized training as well as work alongside local authorities to serve my community. These real operations have provided me invaluable experiences as I move forward in my career."

The program also assists with early identification of wildfires and helping the Sheriff's Department with search missions and crime scene aerial photography. SUU aviators have also acted as first-responders on life flight missions. Most of the top-level management in the Aviation program are deputies in the Iron County Sheriff's department Air Operations Division.

When a call comes in from the sheriff’s department, the training stops for the student and the instructor takes control of the aircraft. In some cases, students get to experience exactly what they hope to do for their career, like transporting life-saving personnel to difficult locations or participating in a search and rescue operation.

“What we do is a community service,” said Mike Mower,Executive Director of SUU Aviation and Chief Flight Instructor. “We don’t replace; we assist the Iron County Sheriff Search and Rescue. If any praise is given for the rescues, it’s those guys – they search all night and literally hike up and down canyons to find lost people. We come in and make a lot of noise, so the person being rescued hears us and comes out of hiding. The ICSSAR are the guys doing the hard work.”

Along with rescuing stranded individuals is the placement of life-saving personnel in difficult-to-reach locations. While the transportation of patients is left to Life Flight, the pilots at SUU Aviation have helped numerous times to get EMTs and medics on top of mountains and out on treacherous terrains.

SUU uniquely prepares students for a career flying aircraft anywhere in the world. The Aviation Program offers training in Rotor Wing Pilot (helicopter) or Fixed Wing Pilot (airplane) components. The specialized labs, located at the Cedar City, Utah Airport include state-of-the-art aircraft.

Learn more about SUU’s Aviation Program here.


Contact Information:

Nikki Koontz, director of marketing
435-586-5487
nikkikoontz@suu.edu