A thermal camera-equipped drone helped searchers quickly find two stranded Roanoke hikers Monday at the Bottom Creek Gorge Preserve and Trail, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday.

At about 1:48 a.m., Floyd County got an emergency call from two hikers who said they were “surrounded by coyotes,” Lt. Mark Hollandsworth of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office wrote in an email.

“Due to bad cellphone reception, the dispatcher was unable to get much information,” Hollandsworth said.

A dispatcher was eventually able to re-establish contact and get a general location, but no more. NRV911 was able to get approximate GPS coordinates through the hikers’ cellphone provider, but only with an accuracy of six miles or so, Hollandsworth wrote.

The hikers were thought to be somewhere in a rugged area near the Montgomery, Floyd and Roanoke county lines, according to a sheriff’s office news release. In prior searches of the area, officers took hours to cover the mountainous terrain, the news release said.

On Monday morning, the Roanoke County Police Department joined the search and Floyd and Roanoke dispatchers continued trying to contact the hikers, Hollandsworth wrote.

The Montgomery sheriff’s office’s drone team had its aircraft flying by 6 a.m., the news release said. Within 20 minutes, the drone had located the hikers’ heat signature. Officers were in “personal contact” with the hikers by 7 a.m., the news release said.

The sheriff’s office did not name the hikers.

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