Drones, which have earned notoriety for “raining death” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, turned life-savers in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand.
On Monday, 50 sorties by these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) helped rescuers spot people stranded in forests, hills and other isolated areas far away from Badrinath and Kedarnath, which have borne the brunt of flash floods and landslides that hit the state on June 15-16.
Paratroopers were dropped with food and water after the UAVs sent images of people stuck on hilltops.
The images also gave a clear picture of the extent of damage as the drones swept the locations where relief helicopters could not have gone.
"UAVs were deployed to screen the whole area of Kedarnath axis to rule out the presence of survivors in the inaccessible places," said a government statement.
The four Netra (eyes in Hindi) UAVs, each weighing 1.5 kg, not only helped rescuers locate survivors but also bodies scattered far away from the epicentre of the disaster.
"The real-time information provided by the UAVs relayed on laptops in the control rooms helped in tracing down stranded people and for coordination of rescue," said MS Reddy, vice-chairperson of National Disaster Management Authority.
Paratroopers carrying food and water were dropped at remote locations such as Jungal Chetti after the UAVs sent pictures of people waving for help, an official of National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) said.
Another group was spotted on an isolated hilltop ahead of Kedarnath and at Bhairav Chotti and Jungle Chotti, said Ajay Chadda, director general of Indian Tibetan Border Force.
Around 190 people were spotted by the UAVs. Many of them — mostly trekkers — were without food and water for days and had taken shelter in homes and caves.
"They were not expecting that someone would come looking for them," an NDRF official, who has been coordinating the relief operations, said. Efforts were on to get them to locations from where they could be air-lifted.