Denmead Drone Search and Rescue hunts for missing people and pets with community's help
Antony Rumming is keenly aware of how fragile mental health can be. Fifteen years ago this month, London was rocked by a wave of coordinated suicide attacks by Islamic extremists which killed 52 people and injured more than 700.
Antony, who was a young Met police officer at the time, was there to deal with the sickening aftermath. ‘It was awful’, he says. ‘There are difficult situations that you go to and think you are okay. But unfortunately, further down the line, I now suffer from complex PTSD.
‘I have been involved in a number of fatalities. One that really made me question whether I wanted to carry on in the Met was the murder of two children. That was it for me. I had had enough by then and it pushed me to leave.’
Fast-forward to 2020 and Antony, now 38, is living in Denmead with his three-year-old daughter Phoebe, and although long out of the police and now working in logistics, he is still driven by the urge to help people.
That is one of the reasons he built a force of his own, Denmead Drone Search and Rescue (DDSAR).
The organisation has hundreds of volunteers across the county who use drones, dogs, off-road vehicles, and even horse riders – who use their high vantage point – to look for pets and people who go missing.
Since March their swift actions have reunited owners with dogs and their public appeals through social media have helped trace missing people too.
They have worked with the family of Trinity Robin, who was found after being missing for a month, and are currently combing the area on foot and by air for Gareth Jones, from Gosport, who has been missing since May. They only act following family requests to help.
Antony says: ‘It began about three months ago and it is now a huge community effort, it is community-led.
‘We’re not trying to take over police work and if there are suspicious circumstances we won’t get involved. We don’t want people on the ground potentially destroying evidence.
‘The police do a great job but their numbers are limited. If you report a missing or stolen pet it’s not going to be a priority. Last year we lost our dog and it took 16 hours to find him. If we’d had a drone we’d have found him in minutes. If a pet is taken the chances of it being reunited with its owner through the police are limited.’
And that's where DDSAR can step in.
Antony uses the drone left to him by his father, Terry, who took his own life, last year.
‘My father committed suicide in October’, says Antony, ‘He had been suffering from depression. When my dad died my total outlook on life changed.’
Considering both his and his father’s battles with depression and PTSD, Antony came to an important realisation.
He says: ‘It got me thinking – we’re at a time when we’re going to see a massive increase in the number of people going missing because of Covid. The mental health toll of people being forced into lockdown, losing their jobs, is a ticking timebomb.
‘The government knows that, but they do not have the resources to deal with the fall-out. Mental health services can’t deal with that situation.’
That's why Antony feels the work of DDSAR is so important.
A mental health nurse has offered their services to coach volunteers on what to do if they find someone who has gone missing.
Antony says: ‘It feels brilliant, especially when there is a good ending. Anyone who has lost a family member or pet will know how much it hurts. When they are found you get quite a rush of adrenaline.
‘There is a real need for this. We’re a valuable community resource. We know we can help the emergency services. We’re doing work they would not necessarily do. They’re not going to look for stolen pets. We’re taking some of the burden from them.’
Antony believes that in future the organisation’s role will expand and they can help in local crises such as flooding. He says: ‘It’s about getting the community out there to help each other – something we lacked until we started this.
‘The community has changed since I was little. We have become bubbles of people living among others, but not with each other.
‘People have great skills and hobbies that can be put to use to help everyone else. It’s quite simple really.’
Group relies on donations for equipment
Denmead Drone Search and Rescue (DDSAR) is a community-led voluntary organisation.
It was set up by Antony Rumming who realised, after his pet dog Woody went missing, that with the support of the community and social media, animals and people could be found very quickly
It is supported by hundreds of drone enthusiasts, walkers, dog owners, off-road vehicle driverss and horse riders who take part in searches for missing pets and people from the air and the ground.
DDSAR is so successful that groups all over the country are hoping to replicate it. They are now in talks with people in Manchester to set up a similar search and rescue group in the north.
It is a non-profit organisation and they rely on donations for new kit for the drone, wet weather gear for volunteers, hi-viz jackets and chip scanners for pets.
To make a donation go to gofundme.com/f/denmead-drone-sar-for-pets-and-people
If you have skills you think can be put to good use – perhaps you are a mental health nurse or a retired doctor, please contact Antony Rumming on [email protected] or head to the Facebook page.