New drone to aid search and rescue team on Navajo Nation

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FRUITLAND — All eyes were on the sky as a small group stood outside the Bisti Fuels Co. office and watched the flight demonstration of an Autel Evo II Dual drone.

As the drone moved above and captured the group with its thermal imaging camera, Eric Trevizo learned about its controls and capabilities.

Trevizo is commander of Shiprock Search and Rescue, a team comprised of volunteers that provide searches for missing persons on and near the Navajo Nation.

He and others were at the Bisti Fuels office on March 23 to receive the new drone from the company, a subsidiary of North American Coal Corporation.

The controller for the Autel Evo II Dual displays the aircraft's thermal image capability during a flight demonstration on March 23 outside the Bisti Fuels Co. office at Navajo Mine in Fruitland.

Marlene Atcitty, second in command of the search and rescue team, explained that this was the first time the team will own a drone, and it will help in search operations, particularly when conducted at night or when terrain prevents access by volunteers or covers large areas.

"It will help out the team a whole lot," Atcitty said.

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Andy Hawkins, community engagement manger with Bisti Fuels, explained the company and the team worked together to cover the cost of the drone, which is fully equipped, in addition to the company purchasing an iPad for the team to use.

This type of drone appealed to Bisti Fuels because its camera offers high quality detail and thermal imaging, both features needed when conducting searches in vast areas, Hawkins explained.

Shiprock Search and Rescue Commander Eric Trevizo, left, watches as Justin Succo, project specialist with Bisti Fuels Co., controls the new drone the team received on March 23 in Fruitland.

"If you are looking for someone who is incapacitated, if they've fallen under a tree, into a crack or crevice, the regular drone camera may not be able to see them. With a thermal, you can tell differences in heat signatures and with infrared, that helps you with night operations," he said.

The collaboration occurred after Hawkins, who oversees a 15-member rescue team at Navajo Mine, met Trevizo last year when the Shiprock team helped in the search for an older female who lived near the mine.

Kay Nave-Mark, community engagement specialist with Bisti Fuels, explained that, despite the effort, the female was found dead.

Bisti Fuels Co. and Shiprock Search and Rescue collaborated to buy a new drone, which will help the volunteer group in searching for missing persons on and near the Navajo Nation.

"When an elder pass from old age, that's acceptable. But when an elder pass from something tragic like this, it's heartbreaking. So, we're glad to see something happen that's good that came out of this," Nave-Mark said.

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The tragic outcome showed the need to help the Shiprock team, so the two entities developed the cost-sharing agreement. 

"This was something that we saw there was a need for and we're happy to step in," Hawkins said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

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