Drone pilots volunteer services to help in search for missing Cowichan man

Ethan Sampson was last seen entering the Cowichan River Jan. 30

Two Chemainus area men stepped up to join the search for Ethan Sampson who has now been missing for more than a week.

Shawn Wagar and Jason Wilson, both experienced drone pilots, spent about three hours on Wednesday flying Wagar’s drone and walking along the river where Sampson was last seen.

“I felt it was extremely important to help out in the search,” Wagar said after completing the search that failed to yield any sign of the missing 28-year-old Cowichan Tribes man.

“I just think of how I would feel if one of my friends or relatives went missing and how desperate I would be for any help I could get.

“I met the family and they are just so exhausted and simply need help.”

Wagar works at Island Health as a multimedia consultant in Nanaimo and started the aerial operations department so when he told his managers about how he wanted to help and how he could help, they gave him the green light without question.

With the river flowing so quickly and the conditions so dangerous in the search area, Wagar’s drone was able to search a wide area and zoom in on specific areas. Log jams, in particular, were of interest given their ability to capture lumber and debris that flows down river.

The technical side of the effort is quite daunting but both Wagar and Wilson are skilled in the use of drone technology and sharing the data.

“I am using the DJI Mavic 2 pro that shoots 4k footage to offer the resolution needed to really see the detail in footage for a proper search. I can also do a proper site survey which will provide a high-resolution photo or map of the entire area which could also help. I also took photos to offer even further resolution.

“Shooting 4K footage requires a lot of disk space so all the drone pilots are loading their footage onto a laptop that someone will look through very meticulously to see if they see anything,” Wagar explained.

“It’s quite a process and you truly need a 4k monitor to see it properly which I’m not sure if they have access to. If they do find anything, the location and flight data is all saved and we can find any specific location in the video at any moment of any clip.”

The two men combined their knowledge to facilitate a thorough search.

“I contacted Jason last minute as I was on the way to Duncan to ask if he wanted to come along and help and he immediately dropped what he was doing and came along.

“Jason is a professional drone pilot and I needed an extra set of eyes to make sure I didn’t crash into a tree as I filmed since it is such a heavily wooded area,” Wagar said.

For Wagar, the opportunity to help a community in need was important and rewarding. After shutting down the drone for the day, the two men spoke with family of Sampson and other friends in the Quamichan Big House.

“Everyone was very friendly when we went there and were all so supportive of each other and truly showed how important a strong family and community is. I respect them deeply and am saddened by this tragedy.

“I have offered to go back if they need me, I just want to help out as much as I can.”

Friends and volunteers have been searching the river since Sampson disappeared from sight of witnesses who saw him enter the water on the night of Jan. 30.

Sampson is a First Nations male, about 5-foot-11, with a slender build. He was last seen wearing rolled-up jeans.

Those with information related to the whereabouts of Ethan Sampson are encouraged to contact the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP at 748-5522 or, Crime Stoppers, anonymously, by either calling 1-800-222-8477 or by visiting cowichancrimestoppers.com

missing person


Cowichan Tribe member Benny George shows drone operators Shawn Wagar and Jason Wilson, from Chemainus, areas along the Cowichan River where they could look for Ethan Sampson from above on Wednesday. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

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