The May 12, 2008, earthquake in Sichuan, China, left nearly 70,000 dead, more than 18,000 missing and more than 374,000 injured. Digital airborne sensors were used in the rescue effort, sending image data to relief workers, who used it to locate people in need of aid.

On May 16, 2008, “SOS700” was found written on a rooftop in the earthquake-stricken village of Cao Ping, China, with the help of Leica ADS40 digital sensors, prompting the rescue of 700 villagers. Source: Leica Geosystems

The May 12, 2008, earthquake in Sichuan, China, left nearly 70,000 dead, more than 18,000 missing and more than 374,000 injured. In all, nearly 46 million people have been affected by the disaster. In the aftermath of the devastating event, local authorities coordinating disaster relief efforts required a fast, accurate and comprehensive overview of the damage and affected areas.

Following a request from the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS), Taiyuan Aero Photography Co. Ltd. immediately agreed to dispatch its Leica ADS40 digital airborne sensors from Leica Geosystems (St. Gallen, Switzerland) to Chongqing, near Chengdu, in the Sichuan province. After the disaster, many flights were taken in the affected area, taking advantage of the Leica ADS40 sensor system. Supported by Leica Geosystems staff, terabytes of continuous high-quality image data were acquired and processed on a daily basis and sent overnight to local authorities and the president’s office for analysis and updates.

On May 16th, after processing a flight undertaken earlier that day, Leica Geosystems’ support staff sent the corrected image data to the China Central Government Earthquake Salvation Center for inspection. While analyzing the image strip, attention was drawn to a sign stating “SOS700” on a rooftop in the village of Cao Ping, near Yingxiu town. Although nobody in the Salvation Center immediately understood the message, a rescue team was quickly dispatched to the village. Upon arrival in Cao Ping, the rescuers encountered 700 villagers without food and water, many of them wounded.

The discovery of the villagers’ call for help was made possible by the performance features of the Leica ADS40. The line sensor technology permits fast large-area data collection at equal resolution across all bands without loss of image quality and information in the multispectral bands.

“This is truly a case in which the superior Leica ADS40 sensor technology helped to save lives,” says Sam Chen, vice president of Leica Geosystems, China. “At Leica Geosystems we are honored that in a combined effort with our customers and local authorities, we could assist our people and our country in this time of need.”
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