Thermal imaging devices have been used to seek out pot-growing operations, map Martian geology and now, to watch the second suspect in this week’s Boston Marathon bombings as he was holed up in his last hiding place.
Authorities said a helicopter equipped with a thermal imager spotted the heat signature of a person inside a tarp-covered boat, sitting in a backyard in Watertown, Mass. Police used the sensor after an area resident reported seeing a trail of blood leading to the boat — and catching a glimpse of a blood-covered body inside. The thermal readings confirmed that there was indeed someone under the tarp, and that the person was still alive.
“Our helicopter had actually detected the subject in the boat,” Col. Timothy Alben of the Massachusetts State Police told reporters. “We have what’s called a FLIR — a forward-looking infrared device — on that helicopter. It picked up the heat signature of the individual, even though he was underneath what appeared to be the ‘shrink wrap’ or cover on the boat itself. There was movement from that point on. The helicopter was able to direct the tactical teams over to that area.”
There was an exchange of gunfire when a SWAT team approached the boat, so police had to back off. The helicopter continued to track the body’s movements inside the boat. Eventually, the tactical team moved in and took the wounded bombing suspect, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, into custody.