Dog rescue operation in La Palma gets green light

A company that operates large drones is now hoping to save animals trapped by lava from the volcano, after efforts were hampered for days by legal hurdles

A Spanish company that specializes in operating large drones said on Tuesday afternoon that it had finally secured authorization to attempt the rescue of four dogs trapped by the lava on the island of La Palma, where a volcano has been erupting since September 19.

“Good news! We are very happy to announce that we’ve been given the necessary permits to carry out the dog rescue operation in La Palma with drones,” said Aerocámaras in a Twitter message at 3.30pm. “The team is on its way to the Advanced Command Post. We’ll keep you posted!”

The authorization was confirmed on Wednesday morning by Miguel Ángel Morcuende, the technical director and spokesman for the Volcano Risk Prevention Plan (Pevolca), the team of experts that is monitoring the eruption. “At 5.30pm yesterday, the relevant form was received by the Cabildo [island authority]. This morning it was viewed, analyzed and approved. We hope the plan is successful.”

The drone company said its pilots went out to conduct tests “together with the emergency teams” on Tuesday afternoon. In a video shared on Twitter on Tuesday, Aerocámaras CEO Jaime Pereira explained that they’d just received an email telling them their request would be formally accepted the following morning, and that they were already on their way to the site.

The plight of the hunting dogs, which have been trapped inside two empty water deposits for several days, has made global headlines. The area is located within the limits of Todoque, one of the first areas to be devastated by the advancing lava streams from the volcano on Cumbre Vieja.

Aerocámaras, based in northwestern Spain and licensed to use large drones for assistance in emergency situations, will try to carry them to safety in a move that has not been attempted to date. An outpouring of support helped the company transport 100 kilograms of heavy equipment from the Galicia region to La Palma, in Spain’s Canary Islands off the northwestern coast of Africa.

The rescue effort has been held back by legal issues, because Spanish legislation lacks rules on the transportation of live animals with unmanned aircraft systems (it was originally reported that it was illegal; instead, there is a legal void on the matter).

For a week and a half, the local companies Ticom Soluciones and Volcanic Life have been using light drones weighing under 250 grams to bring food and water to the trapped podencos, a hunting breed popular in rural Spain. But the situation is taking a toll on the dogs, who are looking increasingly weak.

Aerocámaras workers testing out the system they've developed to rescue the dogs.
Aerocámaras workers testing out the system they've developed to rescue the dogs.AEROCAMARAS (Europa Press)

Aerocámaras CEO Jaime Pereira warned that the rescue operation will be tricky, and said they have had to quickly develop a new system to bear the weight of the dogs and the unfavorable flying conditions that the drone will have to deal with. The area is surrounded by hot lava, ash and smoke, making an overland rescue impossible.

Pereira said that devising a system to catch the dogs has been the hardest part of all. His engineering team has come up with a net that can be brought down with wet dog food in the center. “The key thing is that the dogs need to be enticed to walk right into the center of the net,” said Pereira. Once at that spot, the drone would lift the net and carry the animal to safety. This can only be done one animal at a time, further complicating the rescue. “If any problem should arise, we’ve developed a quick-release system that would leave the animal back on the ground,” he added.

A local animal rights group named, which originally raised the issue of the trapped dogs, has set up a fundraiser on GoFundme. The drive was originally meant to pay for Aerocámaras’ expenses, but the drone company said on October 17 that it would not charge the animal group for its services. The money raised by the crowdfunding drive will instead be used to cover La Palma animal shelters’ outstanding debts with veterinary clinics and to help other animals affected by the volcanic eruption.

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