Drone company gets permission to rescue dogs trapped by La Palma lava

The Spanish drone operator Aerocamaras received permission on Tuesday to rescue three emaciated dogs trapped by lava on the Spanish island of La Palma. 

To save the dogs, the company will use a metallic-grey drone with a catching net mechanism. The drone weighs 50 kg (110 lb), has six rotors, two cameras and can carry 23 kg.

“What we are going to do is to put bait in the center of the net. The net is about two metres in diameter and 1.5 metres high. When we introduce the net, we will wait for just one of the dogs to enter, and we will lift the net,” Jaime Pereira, CEO of Aerocamaras, told Reuters.

The company was waiting for permission from authorities to execute the rescue mission, which they finally got. They needed permission because “it is a unique operation in Spain and because it involves the risk of air transport of live animals,” Aerocamaras said.

The dogs have been stranded for weeks in Todoque, one of the first places devastated by the lava from the Cumbre Vieja volcano, which erupted a month ago.

For the past two weeks, drones have dropped food packages to feed the dogs, but until now, no one has figured out how to rescue them. Helicopters are not allowed to fly in the area because of hot gas that can damage their rotors.

Pereira said that it’s the first time an animal is being rescued with a drone, and the tricky part will be how the dogs react. 

“The reaction of an animal cannot be foreseen. They’ve been eating very little for weeks. They might come, or become scared of the drone. We really depend on their reaction,” he added.

The next challenge is time, Pereira said. There is only a four-minute window to lure a dog into the net and another four minutes to fly him out. “What we don’t want is to run out of battery when flying over the lava,” Pereira said. “That’s the last thing anyone wants.”

Currently, test flights are being conducted. “We have foreseen everything that can happen and we have tried to mitigate all the risks, but is a plane safe? There is always a chance of a problem,” Pereira said about what could go wrong with the operation.

“For us, it’s either we get them out, or they stay there. So if there’s another option to get them out, go ahead, if there isn’t and it’s the last one, we’re going to go rescue them,” he added.

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