Wings of Hope is a labor of love for Medford man
Wings of Hope Search and Rescue (WoH) is a non-profit organization based in Medford that, through the use of aerial and underwater recovery drones, aids family members and law enforcement in finding individuals who have become lost in the wilderness.
Bradley Smith, who has experience in the past working both as a firefighter and an emergency medical technician, is the owner of WoH.
It was Smith’s vision of pairing the capabilities of advanced technology with his ardent sentimentality of saving people’s lives that led to the creation of WoH. Smith started out doing more small-scale searches here and there, before officially launching WoH in 2018. Now, their reach spans across the entire country, operating outside of Wisconsin nearly every week.
“I realized there was a need for this type of equipment in searches and recoveries,” said Smith. “We’re able to utilize a drone in the air or a drone under the water instead of putting someone’s life at risk.”
Smith originally got into drones while participating in crop surveys. From there, he realized how useful the far-seeing tech could be in search and rescues, and began investing in drones fixed with thermal-image cameras.
“We’re able to put a drone up in the air and it doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, we can still see the person,” Smith explained. “With our underwater drones, we have actual side-imaging, down-imaging, and sidescanners. So it’s kind of like what you would have on an upper-end fish locater, but a little bit more sophisticated where you can actually see what’s on the bottom.”
The wildest search Smith participated in occurred in Alabama, after a fisherman’s boat capsized on a lake. This particular lake was the location of a town, which the Army Corps of Engineers purchased in 1961. They built a nearby dam which resulted in the town being flooded, submerging the entirety of it underneath the man-made lake.
“Everything was working against us there,” Smith said. “For our search and recovery, it makes it really difficult because there’s so many places for someone to get hung-up on... Unfortunately this young gentleman was out fishing, and we were not able to find him.”
WoH’s most recent search was that of a three year old girl, in the village of Winter. The child had wandered off into the forest following the family dog, and quickly became lost. Approximately 300 people aided in the search around the family’s 40-acre property, including Smith.
“It was truly amazing to see that many [volunteers] come out and help search,” said Smith, casting praise on all those who participated. “People came from all over. I met people that were from Minnesota, Milwaukee, Madison, the lower part of Wisconsin, just to come help search for this little girl. They all are truly amazing people.” Smith had been searching the area with his drone, before returning it and discussing some logistics of the search with a K-9 operator. “I just got back to the search area and was doing a debriefing when me and another gentleman noticed the [family’s] dog on the road,” he said. “We proceeded into the woods, that’s when [the child] was located coming out of the woods following her dog by the neighbor’s house.”
The girl was fine aside from minor scratches, bug bites, and dehydration. She was taken and shortly released from the hospital after her 24 hours in the wilderness.
So far this year, Smith has provided his services to 39 rescues and recoveries. Wings of Hope operates entirely on donations, never charging the family members of lost individuals for their time or services, with Smith saying it’s all about the people.
“We’re out there trying to help a family at their darkest hour,” he said. “We try to give them back their loved ones, and give them answers.”
Wings of Hope website: www.wingsofhopewi.com