IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. -- Drones have played a crucial role in the search for Maddox Ritch in Gaston County. But how have drones helped find people before?

The Iredell County Sheriff's office has used the technology before in missing persons cases.

“Air One” is one of three drones the Iredell County Sheriff's Office recently purchased.

“It's changed how we do things in terms of searches,” said Sheriff Darren Campbell.

A lot of land and trees can make a traditional search difficult, but a drone cuts down on time, money and resources.

"Air One" is equipped with thermal imaging that can make a tree canopy pretty much disappear. The technology focuses on a person.

“It picks up body heat so it senses different temperature ranges and it will actually light up the person, or the subject, or whatever you're trying to find,” said Iredell County Sheriff’s Office Det. Chris Lamberth.

It also has an HD camera with a powerful zoom.

“I could actually zoom in and see if that's the person that I'm looking for,” Lamberth said.

The sheriff's office uses its drone for a range of scenarios from car crashes to weather damage to missing person cases.​ It even used it in a recent search for a missing person in Lake Norman.

The Randolph County Sheriff's office has also had success looking for missing people using drones.

 Lamberth said the technology, which is regulated by the state, has given search crews an edge that wasn't available before.

It's what people in Gastonia are hoping for as they continue to search on ground and from above for Maddox.​