The search for a missing woman in Co Clare is utilising new drone technology operated by Civil Defence volunteers.

The small, unmanned aircraft (SUA) technology allows search volunteers to cover areas of ground six times faster than previous methods.

Maria Hennigar (35) has been missing from the Doolin area since early November.

Civil Defence volunteers from Ennis joined gardai and the Doolin coastguard, from lunchtime yesterday. The search will be concentrated around Doolin village, and Doolin pier and its coastal surrounds, before moving inland. Three Ennis-based Civil Defence volunteers will operate the SUA technology under new pilot licences, secured in conjunction with the Irish Aircraft Authority (IAA). The team includes a drone pilot and two camera operators.

Volunteer Stevie Hayes said the technology allows them to search in a fraction of the previous time.

“With 10 to 15 volunteers, the search of a 500m area could take 30 minutes, whereas, with the drone, we can cover it in three to five minutes.

“The drones have maps, GPS, and zoom technology, so if anyone spots something and wants to take a closer look, we can do that,” Mr Hayes said.

Missing Clare woman Maria Hennigar
Missing Clare woman Maria Hennigar

Pilot licences have been secured to fly up to 500m in height, whereas the standard drone operator is limited to 300m.

“A lot of the terrain we cover is dangerous cliff tops and caves, and slippery, rocky coastal regions, so this technology allows us to carry out our work in a much safer way,” Mr Hayes said.

The €150,000 scheme began last winter and teams in nine counties have completed training.

The technology became operational over the summer and the IAA and Department of Defence will present the Civil Defence teams with their official certificates at a ceremony in the Phoenix Park today.


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