Drone rescue plan for dogs trapped by La Palma volcano

An unprecedented drone operation is being prepared to rescue four dogs stranded for weeks between rivers of red-hot lava streaming from an erupting volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma.

The emaciated dogs are stranded in two empty water tanks in the town of Todoque, flanked by slow-moving lava flows from the Cumbre Vieja volcano that erupted on 19 September .

The molten rock has so far covered over 760 hectares (1,885 hektaar) of land and destroyed about 2,000 buildings, although prompt evacuations have helped avoid fatalities on the island, part of the Canary Islands off northwest Africa.

On its way to the Atlantic Ocean, the lava has spared a few areas by creating islands of terrain that remain relatively unharmed, such as the spot where the dogs are.

Local animal association Leales.org sounded the alarm after it became aware of the plight of the dogs in early October, and arranged for two drone firms to drop off food and water for the animals, which have lost weight since becoming trapped.

Reaching the animals on foot is impossible as this would require crossing scorching lava, and helicopters cannot fly in the area because the ash and hot gas from the volcano could damage their rotors, said Leales.org spokesperson Alejandro Molina. “This is the only way to do it,” he told AFP.

A crew from the industrial drone operator Aerocameras arrived on the island on Monday after receiving the green light from local authorities to carry out the rescue operation. Under Spanish law, drones are normally not allowed to transport people or animals.

The company’s CEO, Jaime Pereira, said the plan was to send a 50kg (110lb) drone equipped with a wide net to trap the dogs one by one and fly them to safety. “We don’t have experience transporting a live animal by drone. Nor does anyone,” he told private television Telecinco.

The success of the mission will depend largely on how the dogs respond to the drone, hy het bygevoeg. “The dog could react by running away, moving, jumping,” Pereira said.

“There are those who say the dogs could fracture a bone, have a heart attack. Of course there are all sorts of risks, but either we get them out or probably in a few days or weeks they will no longer exist.”

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