On Wednesday November 15, 2017 the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office was notified that Eddie Owens, 81 years of age, who was suffering from dementia, was missing and had not been seen since approximately 5 p.m. Nov. 14.
Units from the Sheriff’s Office, Spalding County Fire and the Georgia Piedmont K-9 Search and Rescue team responded to the area and began their search.
The concern was that Owens had not been seen for nearly 24 hours at the time we were notified and temperatures the night before had dipped into the low 40s, and the same was expected last night.
Approximately 30 team members were involved in the search on foot and with K-9s. The Sheriff’s Office also deployed its drone in the search. Hours after the search began , as darkness began to set in, there had been no luck in locating Owens.
It was decided by command staff to deploy the drone to search the area again using the forward looking infra-red camera (FLIR). Investigator Eraste Trehan was piloting the drone, and Investigator Emily Blackmon and Sheriff Darrell Dix were monitoring the FLIR.
A strong heat signature was located in a clear cut area approximately a half mile from Owen’s residence. Searchers made their way to the area where the signal was located and found it almost unpassable at some points due to overgrowth.
Investigator Trahan was able to hover the drone over the heat signature and guide searchers to it while monitoring the FLIR. As he was transmitting out directions to the searchers, Blackmon called out that she had located Owens lying in a low area in the undergrowth.
Owens was alive and conscious, but was suffering from dehydration and exposure to the cold from his 26 1⁄2 hours in the woods. He was taken by the search team to an awaiting ambulance where he was met by his sister and WellStar Spalding Regional EMS.
Owens was transported to Spalding Regional for treatment and was expected to be released overnight.
“This was nothing short of a miracle. At his age, wearing very minimal clothing, with temperatures as cold as they were overnight, and being exposed to the elements, it is by the grace of God that he is alive. He is tough but I don’t believe he would have survived another night,” Dix said. “A couple of things led to Mr. Owens being located. The joint cooperation between the Sheriff’s Office, Spalding County Fire and the Georgia Piedmont K-9 Team was key and shows what working together can accomplish. Secondly was the ability to deploy the drone with its FLIR capabilities. Without it we would not have been able to locate Mr. Owens. We haven’t widely publicized that we have that capability and technology. The drone was provided to us for free as a part of a contract with one of our jail service vendors. We have had it since March and we have been going through the process with the FAA for licensing. Investigator Trahan has been training with it for a couple of weeks now and this was the first time it was deployed.”