Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Wilderness Search and Rescue Operations: A Scoping Review

Craig Vincent-Lambert, Anje Pretorius, Bernard Van Tonder

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) focuses on locating and extricating missing persons in remote settings. As unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or “drone” technology has evolved, so has the literature describing its application in WSAR operations. We conducted a scoping review of literature that describes the use of UAVs in WSAR contexts. The Joanna Briggs Institute Framework for scoping reviews was followed using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Extension for Scoping Reviews method. Additional individual databases, article reference lists, and relevant grey literature were also included in the search to provide an impartial scope. Seven hundred forty-seven articles were identified. Of these, 56 were found to be duplicates. The remaining 691 were further screened and checked for eligibility. Ultimately, 21 studies were found that met our inclusion criteria. This literature supports the use of UAVs to increase the safety and efficiency of a WSAR operation for locating victims, assessing risks, carrying equipment, and restoring communication systems. Unmanned aerial vehicles are a potentially useful adjunct in the management of WSAR operations. Their limitations include objects obscuring victims, weather changes, uneven terrain, battery-limited flight time, and susceptibility to environmental damage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)580-588
Number of pages9
JournalWilderness and Environmental Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • drone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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