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Drone helped find missing girl in Moore County woods, sheriff says

CARTHAGE, N.C. (WNCN) -- The Moore County Sheriff is crediting the office's drone for helping find a child who'd gone missing in the woods this week.

It was 10:30 Thursday night when a frantic mom called the sheriff's office, saying her 11-year-old daughter was nowhere to be found.

It was dark, and about 30 degrees outside, so deputies jumped into action.

"Our deputies were very concerned about the safety of the child, and that's why they got the drone on site as quickly as they did," said Moore County Sheriff Neil Godfrey.

Godrey says the pilot launched the drone and began scanning the thick woods across from the girl's home using thermal technology.

Within 15 minutes, the sheriff says the pilot found the girl about 100 yards from her home in the woods.

"She lit up the screen," Godfrey said. "They could see a red glow indicating the presence of heat and then they were able to direct deputies to that location."

However, it was so dark in the woods that even with flashlights, deputies walked right past the child and had to be directed back to her by the drone pilot. Godfrey says she'd fallen asleep in a thicket and was covered in leaves.

"We were very fortunate to find her as quickly as we did," Godfrey said.

Godfrey says the county's drone program began more than a year ago. Six deputies underwent training and are FAA certified to fly the drones, which Godfrey says are ideal for searches or surveying crime scenes while keeping deputies at a safe distance.

He added that the department follows strict privacy laws.

The industrial drone used Thursday night has a thermal camera, and extreme zoom with the ability to read a license plate. The $25,000 price tag was covered by drug forfeiture money.

Godfrey says if the county hadn't had the drone Thursday, the search would have taken hours, required extra many power, and calling in resources from neighboring counties.

"It would have been a pretty intensive hunt until we were able to find her," said Godfrey.

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