Father of missing B.C. woman fundraises for drones to help in search

“We’ll fight this right to the very end,” said Simpson. ”We’ll bring our daughter home and lay her to rest here.”

John Simpson is determined to use the novel experience he gained in a troubling search for his daughter to help others who have lost loved ones.

Ashley Simpson went missing in Salmon Arm, B.C., in April 2016, and this spring her father travelled there from Ontario for a second time. He believed her body might be along the banks of a river or creek.

The area had been flooded and it was too dangerous to search on foot, but Simpson had an idea. He told friends he wanted to borrow a drone, and was put in touch with a surprisingly young expert — a 14-year-old boy with a fleet of drones and a strong commitment to his hobby.

“It really got me thinking,” said Simpson in a recent phone interview from his home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

“Watching this young man, and his drone … He can go thousands of feet in the air and he can hover just three or four inches off the ground. If it was going to come to an obstacle, it would stop. … It’s absolutely amazing.”

Simpson hired the boy to search the mouth of the Salmon River where it flows into Shuswap Lake. Although his daughter wasn’t found, Simpson was resolved to get more drones into the hands of volunteer crews searching for missing people.

Since Ashley Simpson went missing last year at age 32, her family in Ontario has held an annual barbecue to fundraise for women’s shelters. This year, they added a golf tournament and her father used the proceeds to purchase four inexpensive drones, two of which he sent to a missing-women’s advocate in B.C.

RCMP wrapped up a wide-scale search of a Salmon Arm farm last week. Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said human remains found at the property were confirmed to belong to one person, 18-year-old Traci Genereaux. Her death is being treated as suspicious but no charges have been laid.

At least four other women, including Simpson, remain missing in the region.

Jody Leon of the Splatsin First Nation in Enderby, near Salmon Arm, organized a search party for the women this spring that covered more than 100 kilometres. Last week, she received the drones from Simpson and held a meeting for interested volunteers.

Leon said she’s connected with a number of experienced drone operators, including some with longer-range drones and another who will help volunteers get licensed under Transport Canada regulations. Their first drone search could be as soon as next week, she said.

“John Simpson has been a huge teacher for me in terms of resiliency,” she added. ”In any situation, no matter how painful it is, you can still get up and keep fighting.”

Transport Canada currently requires anyone using drones for anything other than fun to obtain a special flight operations certificate. Applicants for the certificates are evaluated on a case-by-case basis according to criteria including proposed use, safety record and experience, Transport Canada said in a statement.

Related: End of Silver Creek search leaves many questions

Even those with a certificate are not allowed to fly drones outside their visual line-of-sight. This makes it difficult for search and rescue crews to use them over distances, said Ali Miri, president of UAViation Aerial Imaging Solutions.

Search and rescue organizations in Kamloops and Coquitlam are participating in a pilot project that allows crews to use drones. The project is set to expand to more groups next year, said Andrew Morrison of Emergency Management BC.

There are limitations, including that drones can’t see through the tree canopy and weather conditions and battery life make it difficult to search large areas. But they have been useful in assessing hazards before volunteers enter an area and to pinpoint people’s locations using infrared cameras, Morrison said.

RCMP have access to drones but Moskaluk declined to say whether they were used in the search for Ashley Simpson. Salmon Arm Search and Rescue said they conducted a three-day ground search.

John Simpson doesn’t believe drones will now find his daughter. His aim is to help others who are searching for their loved ones, especially in the crucial first days after they go missing. He eventually hopes to have a Canada-wide network of volunteer drone search teams.

But he said he and his wife won’t ever give up searching for their daughter, a jack of all trades who loves to cook, travel and entertain children, and who turns 34 on Nov. 15.

“We’ll fight this right to the very end,” said Simpson. ”We’ll bring our daughter home and lay her to rest here.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Heavy snowfall warning continues

Kelowna - Expect snow in the Okanagan, Southern Interior and the Kootenays

New BCFGA president well prepared for new task

Oliver orchardist Pinder Dhaliwal has been BCFGA vice-president for five years

Interior Health CEO to retire in October

Chris Mazurkewich will step down after three years leading IH

Update: Heavy snowfall warning for Okanagan, Shuswap and mountain highways

A lot of snow and cold weather is on its way, according to Environment Canada

A $5 million boost for Okanagan fruit growers

The Tree Fruit Competitiveness Fund was announced to help update aging farming equipment, infrastructure

What’s happening

Check out what is happening this weekend in the Okanagan-Shuswap.

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

B.C. files new legal action against TransMountain pipeline

Province tries to uphold City of Burnaby bylaws, provoking Alberta

BCHL Today: Powell River stuns Vernon and BCHL grads lead Team Canada

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Reports of money laundering in B.C. real estate ‘troubling’: attorney general

News report alleges people connected to fentanyl trade are using B.C. real estate to launder money

OLYMPIC ROUNDUP: Two more medals for Canada, and men’s hockey loss

Team Canada shines on the speed skating track, but fall short against the Czechs in hockey

RCMP member challenges court to prevent further disciplinary action

RCMP member launches appeal to avoid new hearing over alleged harassment

Port of Vancouver program examines impact of marine noise on local whales

Man-made noises can interfere with orcas’ ability to hunt and communicate with other pod members

Patrick Brown enters Ontario Tory leadership race

Despite sexual misconduct allegations Brown believes he is the right choice for the PC party

Most Read