Father of missing B.C. woman fundraises for drones to help in search

“We’ll fight this right to the very end,” said Simpson. ”We’ll bring our daughter home and lay her to rest here.”

John Simpson is determined to use the novel experience he gained in a troubling search for his daughter to help others who have lost loved ones.

Ashley Simpson went missing in Salmon Arm, B.C., in April 2016, and this spring her father travelled there from Ontario for a second time. He believed her body might be along the banks of a river or creek.

The area had been flooded and it was too dangerous to search on foot, but Simpson had an idea. He told friends he wanted to borrow a drone, and was put in touch with a surprisingly young expert — a 14-year-old boy with a fleet of drones and a strong commitment to his hobby.

“It really got me thinking,” said Simpson in a recent phone interview from his home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

“Watching this young man, and his drone … He can go thousands of feet in the air and he can hover just three or four inches off the ground. If it was going to come to an obstacle, it would stop. … It’s absolutely amazing.”

Simpson hired the boy to search the mouth of the Salmon River where it flows into Shuswap Lake. Although his daughter wasn’t found, Simpson was resolved to get more drones into the hands of volunteer crews searching for missing people.

Since Ashley Simpson went missing last year at age 32, her family in Ontario has held an annual barbecue to fundraise for women’s shelters. This year, they added a golf tournament and her father used the proceeds to purchase four inexpensive drones, two of which he sent to a missing-women’s advocate in B.C.

RCMP wrapped up a wide-scale search of a Salmon Arm farm last week. Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said human remains found at the property were confirmed to belong to one person, 18-year-old Traci Genereaux. Her death is being treated as suspicious but no charges have been laid.

At least four other women, including Simpson, remain missing in the region.

Jody Leon of the Splatsin First Nation in Enderby, near Salmon Arm, organized a search party for the women this spring that covered more than 100 kilometres. Last week, she received the drones from Simpson and held a meeting for interested volunteers.

Leon said she’s connected with a number of experienced drone operators, including some with longer-range drones and another who will help volunteers get licensed under Transport Canada regulations. Their first drone search could be as soon as next week, she said.

“John Simpson has been a huge teacher for me in terms of resiliency,” she added. ”In any situation, no matter how painful it is, you can still get up and keep fighting.”

Transport Canada currently requires anyone using drones for anything other than fun to obtain a special flight operations certificate. Applicants for the certificates are evaluated on a case-by-case basis according to criteria including proposed use, safety record and experience, Transport Canada said in a statement.

Related: End of Silver Creek search leaves many questions

Even those with a certificate are not allowed to fly drones outside their visual line-of-sight. This makes it difficult for search and rescue crews to use them over distances, said Ali Miri, president of UAViation Aerial Imaging Solutions.

Search and rescue organizations in Kamloops and Coquitlam are participating in a pilot project that allows crews to use drones. The project is set to expand to more groups next year, said Andrew Morrison of Emergency Management BC.

There are limitations, including that drones can’t see through the tree canopy and weather conditions and battery life make it difficult to search large areas. But they have been useful in assessing hazards before volunteers enter an area and to pinpoint people’s locations using infrared cameras, Morrison said.

RCMP have access to drones but Moskaluk declined to say whether they were used in the search for Ashley Simpson. Salmon Arm Search and Rescue said they conducted a three-day ground search.

John Simpson doesn’t believe drones will now find his daughter. His aim is to help others who are searching for their loved ones, especially in the crucial first days after they go missing. He eventually hopes to have a Canada-wide network of volunteer drone search teams.

But he said he and his wife won’t ever give up searching for their daughter, a jack of all trades who loves to cook, travel and entertain children, and who turns 34 on Nov. 15.

“We’ll fight this right to the very end,” said Simpson. ”We’ll bring our daughter home and lay her to rest here.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Red Deer-based Home of Hope to host ‘Heroes’ Charity Gala

International charity has missions in several African nations

Rimbey RCMP on scene of serious collision

A portion of Highway 53 west of Rimbey is down to one lane while crews investigate

WATCH: 2010 Olympic architect John Furlong inspires Red Deerians at Chamber event

Furlong suggests Red Deer should get involved with Calgary’s 2026 Olympic bid

Red Deer RCMP recent arrests include stolen vehicles, break and enters and drug charges

RCMP continue their focus on repeat offenders as part of the Pinpoint crime reduction strategy

Red Deer RCMP investigate armed convenience store robbery

Suspect fled on foot with undisclosed amount of cash and cigarettes

U.S. congressman issues dire warning to Canada’s NAFTA team: time is running out

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to resume talks with the U.S.

Kim agrees to dismantle main nuke site if US takes steps too

Kim promised to accept international inspectors to monitor the closing of a key missile test site and launch pad and to visit Seoul soon.

Wetaskiwin RCMP looking for missing youth

Police say 12-year-old Treston Minde left his residence on his bike Sept. 17 and hasn’t returned home

North Carolina gov pleads with storm evacuees to be patient

The death toll rose to at least 37 in three states Tuesday, with 27 fatalities in North Carolina.

North and South Korea say they plan to bid for 2032 Olympics

Moon and Kim announced a sweeping set of agreements including a vow to work together to host the Summer Olympics in 2032.

Russia’s reinstatement after doping scandal goes to a vote

The World Anti-Doping Agency is due to vote Thursday Sept. 20, 2018, on possible reinstatement of Russia.

Ontario wins stay on ruling that struck down council-cutting plan

The province had argued the stay was necessary to eliminate uncertainty surrounding the Oct. 22 vote, and the Court of Appeal agreed.

B.C. cannabis producer Tilray hits at $20-billion high as stock price explodes

This is the first export of a cannabis product from a Canadian company to the U.S.

‘Sesame Street’ wants to clarify: Bert and Ernie aren’t gay

The characters are best friends and have many human traits but “remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation”

Most Read