Police say airborne thermal camera saved missing kids – but was a helicopter too much?

Thermal image of two children lost in Scottish forest with metadata around it
(Image credit: Police Scotland Air Unit Lanarkshire)

The Police Scotland Air Unit has released an image captured with a thermal camera, which was caught as part of its successful rescue of two children lost in a remote area of forestry roughly halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Though the children do appear to be on a track, they were missing and a search was underway in the Shotts / Fauldhouse area. The aerial image above was caught from a police helicopter.

Check our list of the best thermal drones

and the Air Unit spokesperson said "The crew assisted Police Scotland Lanarkshire tonight and located two lost children in a remote area of Forestry between Shotts and Fauldhouse," an Air Unit spokesperson told the Glasgow Times. "Divisional officers were directed to their location and recovered them to safety."

Given the tech we've recently seen here at Digital Camera World, there is the question of whether helicopters are the best way to go about this kind of mission. The price-per-hour of a police helicopter mission in the UK, according to a Freedom of Information request numbered 1124/21 to West Yorkshire Police in 2021, is £3,200 an hour (around $3,880 / AU$6,125), whether the helicopter is in the air or not. The cost includes having trained pilots to hand, aircraft maintenance and so on, so no further breakdown is given.

The figure, however, suggests that an hour and a half of helicopter ownership would buy the police department a Mavic 3T thermal drone – a device that most officers could be trained to use reasonably quickly.

Drones are being widely used to save lives – we reported earlier this year that unmanned craft are thought to have saved over 1,000 lives worldwide – so why is this story one about the success of a helicopter?

Are some police forces being too slow to adapt? Is a helicopter still faster? Are restrictive rules on BVLoS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) taking too long to adapt? Can helicopters just carry bigger thermal cameras?

The answer is all of the above, though most importantly the story had a happy ending.

As well as our guide to the best thermal drones check our guide to the best thermal cameras and best night vision goggles and binoculars.

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Adam Juniper
Managing Editor

With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 

Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 

He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video and The Drone Pilot's Handbook