Thermal Camera Helps Deputies Find, Rescue Missing Child in Swampland

Thermal imaging camera next to a body camera image of sheriff's deputies rescuing a missing child.

Sheriff’s deputies in Florida used thermal imaging cameras on a police helicopter to locate and rescue a missing five-year-old autistic child in the swamplands of Tampa.

Around 5 PM on Monday, February 26, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office’s Aviation Unit was called in to assist deputies in locating the child who had wandered away from her family’s home in Tampa.

Thanks to thermal imaging technology, deputies on the ground located the girl in under an hour and were able to make safe contact with her on the ground. Fortunately, she was unharmed and was swiftly returned home to her family.

The girl was found walking through a heavily wooded wetland area. When the aviation unit located her, she was headed toward a body of water, which could have spelled disaster for the child.

Sheriff Chad Chronister explains that people with autism are drawn to water, which underpins the importance of finding her before she reached deep water.

He also explains trying search efforts for autistic individuals is complicated by challenges with communication.

The department, like many across the country, also works with a program called “SafetyNet” that is designed to help families and law enforcement better work with autistic children and elderly people who may wander from home.

Chronister says the program has helped many recoveries, and Hillsborough County has the required communications hardware on its aviation unit and some of its cars.

“Their quick action saved the day, turning potential tragedy into a hopeful reunion,” says Sheriff Chad Chronister of his fellow deputies. “Their dedication shows what service and protection are all about here at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.”

The heroic and timely rescue was also recorded on body cam footage, which the girl’s family has approved for release by the sheriff’s department.

The girl’s family thought she was at a neighbor’s house, says Chronister. Once they went there and realized that she wasn’t present, the panic quickly set in.

“In situations like this, every second counts, and it’s always rewarding to see this quick response for our deputies, and to see such a positive outcome,” Chronister says.

Image credits: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department