Helicopters and drones side by side during the landslide in Ask. Because sufficient separation was established in distance, height and direct communication on the emergency radio, both aircrafts were able to operate simultaneously. Here we see the drone from Nedre Romerike Fire and Rescue flying while the Leonardo AW169 police helicopter operates south of the crater. Photo: Anders Martinsen

Unique collaboration between drones and helicopters during a massive rescue operation. Europe’s largest drone operation after deadly landslide in Norway. 420 missions and 200 hours of airtime.

13 people were rescued from the collapsed houses and the rubble in the still moving landslide the first few hours after the catastrophe hit the small village of Ask, Gjerdrum in Eastern Norway on 30 December 2020. Both helicopters and drones have played a major role in the search and rescue operation in Ask. Heat-seeking drones and helicopters were cooperating after a 2000 feet long quick clay landslide hit the small village. More than a 1000 people were evacuated.
Sigve Losnegård

13 people were rescued from the collapsed houses and the rubble in the still moving landslide the first few hours after the catastrophe hit the small village. The same evening the number of missing people was down to ten.

For weeks after the disaster, drones were seen patrolling the devastated village of Ask in Gjerdum, a small municipality in Eastern Norway for weeks. The landslide that hit the village at 4 a.m. on 30 December 2020 was 300 yards wide and more than 2000 feet in length and left a gaping hole in the beautiful landscape, burying 31 homes. Seven people were found dead, and three of the inhabitants are still not accounted for.

Drone pilot Nichols Caprino Newhouse (far right) from Andøya Space during the tragic landslide in Ask, with Kenny Åserud (left) and Jonas Amundsen from Nedre Romerike Fire and Rescue. Together they operated for more than 110 hours in the air above the site. Photo: Anders Martinsen

Massive rescue operation

The rescue operation was a massive undertaking, with military personnel from the elite force Derby, the Lockheed P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft, as well as several helicopters: Bell 412, AgustaWestland AW101, the police helicopter Leonardo AW169 and SeaKing helicopters. In addition, at least 30 search teams with dogs participated, rescue teams from Oslo Fire Department, local fire crews, the National Brigade, the Swedish USAR special crew and 25 ambulances. In addition: Police and fire department drones with heat seeking capability. To say the task of coordinating all these units was a challenge, is a huge understatement.

The landslide covers an area of more than 200.000 square meters. Photo: Anders Martinsen

First on the scene: A police helicopter

An hour after the landslide hit Ask, the first helicopter arrived at the disaster site; a Leonardo AW169 police helicopter, flown by pilot Lars Ribe-Aakre. The police tactical unit Delta’s drone was quickly launched as well, but due to the rough and cold weather conditions, the drone had to be taken down for a while. Soon, other aircraft, among them several drones arrived, but the first few hours, the air was reserved for helicopter rescue operations. All communication was done over radio link.

See the unique drone film from the landslide:

-We are used to creating our own separation towards other aircraft, police helicopter pilot Ribe-Aakre says. It usually works well, and that was the case during our stay in Ask too, he adds.

-The controlling of the drone resources were done old-fashioned and orally by standing next to each other overlooking the sunken landslide area, says Jørgen Lunde Ronge, drone project manager for the Norwegian police.

The village of Ask after the landslide. This is how the drone pilots’ screens looked like. Drones with 20-80x zoom capability could observe large parts of the area. At night, thermal sensors made it possible to discover temperature differences in the quick clay. The drones were operation from ground level up to 120 yard above ground. Photo: Anders Martinsen

The police established a no-fly zone, exept for medical transport, search and rescue, military and police. Later that morning, a military resource from Rygge Airfield was set up; JTAC, which controlled all air traffic in the area. Usually, they control military air traffic, and have competence in the field. The whole operation was operated manually. The police controlled the drone resources, while the military JTAC resource controlled the helicopters.

A large numbers of houses were destroyed by the landslide. After carefully monitoring the crater for weeks by using drones the work for finding the missing people in the crater starter at the end of january. Photo: Anders Martinsen

Complex situation

Nedre Romerike Fire and Rescue Several controlled several drones equipped with thermal cameras, which made it possible to spot people and animals in the rubble.

Drone pilot Kenny Åserud was at home when he was called in. 

-My wife is a nurse, and she got at catastrophe call-in at the same time as I was called in. I understood that something serious had happened, Åserud says.

-When we arrived, the situation was complex and difficult to grasp. But when we got our first drone up, we started to understand the scope of the catastrophe.

An example of drone images Nedre Romerike Fire and Rescue took during the rescue operation in Ask. The drone could follow the search and rescue mission and at the same time improve the safety situation for the rescuers. Photo: Anders Martinsen

Later that day, several drones also took to the air. Many helicopters were flying rescue missions while drones did a lot of surveillance tasks. The deadly landslide generates over 420 drone missions and 200 hours of airtime collaborating with helicopters during a massive rescue operation.

Dronepilot Kenny Åserud and Jonas Amundsen from Nedre Romerike Fire And Rescue with their DJI Matrice 300 used during operations. Photo: Anders Martinsen

Operators from both the police, fire departments and the army were flying drones, as well as one civil pilot from Andøya Space participate in Europe’s most extensive drone operation ever.