Sept. 11--A tiny bit of technological wizardry -- an infrared camera mounted on a Broward Sheriff's Office helicopter -- saved the life of motorcyclist Daniel William Brinson II, a Boca Raton father of five.
The camera, one of four in BSO's fleet, seeks sources of heat and sends images to monitors inside the helicopter for crews to analyze. That's what saved Brinson, 41, last Wednesday when his motorcycle crashed along a darkened stretch of Interstate 95 in Pompano Beach. His body was hurled into a thick patch of seagrape and pine trees, invisible to rescuers who drove past, unable to find him.
A driver who saw Brinson's motorcycle go airborne about 4:20 a.m. Sept. 4 had dialed 911 for help. But the Florida Highway Patrol, Broward sheriff's deputies and Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue firefighter/paramedics were unable to find Brinson, who broke his leg and wrist in the crash. After about 70 minutes, the BSO's high-tech helicopter found him. "If it wasn't for the helicopter, he probably wouldn't have been found for hours, from what he told me," said Brinson's mother, Tina Hughes.
Flight teams are on call 24 hours a day from the BSO hangar at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. The four helicopters had 2,860 calls for service in 2012.
The agency loans its crews and helicopters to other police departments, as does the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, which has two heat-seeking camera-equipped helicopters.
Deputy Pilot Chris Marchese and flight medics Robert Thompson and Lt. Eric De Lotta were on duty the night of Brinson's rescue. When asked about the high-tech rescues that have been particularly memorable, the medics described getting a woman who had been assaulted with a sledgehammer, clinging to life, to a hospital. Not expected to survive, she overcame her injuries and recently visited her rescuers to say thanks.
"That made our year," De Lotta said.
The fliers also recalled the January rescue of a disoriented Fort Lauderdale man who was near railroad tracks before he was found.
The camera science isn't perfect; there can be false positives. BSO's medics say the device once mistook a large beehive for a child. And dogs can appear human at first, but will react differently when a helicopter spotlight is trained on them.
"With bad guys, if you put the light on them, they run," Thompson said. "Dogs just sit there."
Four years ago, BSO's fliers added night vision goggles to their toolboxes.
"[With the goggles], I've found airboaters just from their cellphone light," De Lotta said. In the past, rescuers had to rely on spotlights and flares, which provided a narrower path of illumination.
In Brinson's case, BSO's Air Rescue 85 hovered over I-95 north above Atlantic Boulevard as the camera scanned the ground. Eventually it transmitted a glowing heat source to the copter's screen. The hot spot turned out to be the engine on Brinson's bike.
"I could tell it was a motorcycle on its side," Thompson said. Then Brinson's head and arm appeared on the helicopter's monitor, he said.
"We couldn't see his legs at all [because of the brush]," Thompson said. "We could see a person's arm moving."
Added De Lotta, "He was so deep in the bushes we'd never have thought to look there. We'd have never found him in the dark without the [camera]."
Brinson once drove trucks for a living and was to begin a new job as a theater technician on the day he crashed, his mother said. His family is still trying to sort out how he landed in the secluded spot next to the busy highway.
"He remembers someone coming across three lanes of traffic and cutting him off," Hughes said. "He was attempting to avoid him, the bike started going out of control and he tried to right it and he hit something in the swale. Next thing he remembers is waking up, lying under the trees."
The BSO helicopter crew alerted responders on the ground to Brinson's location, while continuing to scan the brush in case Brinson had a passenger. Brinson was lucid enough to say he was riding alone; he was taken to Broward Health North.