The poor, emaciated pups have been stuck in a yard surrounded by lava for a month. The volcano began erupting in September for the first time in 50 years, forcing thousands of people to evacuate, and the eruption is still ongoing.
Spanish drone operator Aerocámaras said last Thursday that it had a plan to rescue the dogs. It could fly drones over to the yard with food for the pups and a camera that could help operators on the ground find the best to airlift them. Once the animals had some time to get used to the machines, the drones would drop cargo nets over them to pick them up one by one and carry them to safety.
On Wednesday, Aerocamaras’ Jaime Pereira confirmed that the company had officially received permission from authorities to carry out the rescue mission. To get the state’s blessing, the firm had to complete a test mission that consisted of a quarter-mile (1.2-kilometer) flight with the drone supporting a load of 33 pounds (15 kilograms), which it did successfully.
Still, the mission will be treacherous. “It is very difficult, technically it is the most complicated thing we have done by far,” Pereira told the Spanish broadcaster Telecinco. “We are risking a lot.”
For one, the cargo net for the rescue mission is designed to hold about 50 pounds (24 kilograms), enough to transport one dog at a time. The operators have to be sure to time their lift-off perfectly to avoid picking up more than one dog and having them fall.
Pereira also told Reuters that the drone only has 8 minutes of battery life, meaning the trips will have to be meticulously planned and executed: The operator will have only 4 minutes to get the dog into the net, and another 4 minutes to fly them back to safe ground. “What we don’t want is to run out of battery when flying over the lava,” he said.
The expedition will mark a series of high-stakes first. “It’s the first time an animal is being rescued with a drone and the first time it has to be captured,” Pereira told Reuters.
Though the unprecedented trip won’t be easy, Aerocamaras thinks it’s the pups’ last hope. Spanish authorities have dropped food down to the dogs with drones, but no one has come up with a plan to save them until now. Helicopters aren’t permitted to fly into the area because hot gases emitted by the volcano can damage their rotors. And it’s clear that no one can go in on foot with the volcano still in a volatile state.
“If that’s the last option that the dogs have? Then we’re going after them,” Pereira told Reuters.