Helicopter joins search for missing 9-year-old girl

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NEAR ROCKERVILLE, S.D. (KOTA TV)-- The search expanded Saturday for a 9-year-old girl missing since last weekend in some very rugged and snowy Black Hills terrain.

But as of sundown there was no new news on the whereabouts of young Serenity Dennard.

It was Day seven of the search that began last Sunday morning when Serenity ran away from the Black Hills Children's Home, a refuge for children that have experienced trauma or have behavioral needs. And the search Saturday had new assets.

A helicopter flew repeated missions over the search area in a grid pattern.

"We can add a different dimension, the aerial perspective," said Michael Jacob who owns Black Hills Aerial Adventures and works with the sheriff's office on cases that could use an air element. "It gives you a wider view. In a situation like this with the snow coverage it's a little bit more difficult however we can cover a large area of ground in a short period of time."

Also joining the search were seven specialty dog teams from four states. The out-of-area dogs are all trained to locate remains as authorities say is unlikely Serenity could have survived out in the wild.

The dogs teams are each assigned specific territories.

"We take a map and we segment out areas based on terrain, roads, natural and man made barriers," said Pennington County Search and Rescue Team Leader Tammy Stadel. "And then we assign each dog a specific area to work. It's very important for the dogs to get in somewhere warm get their feet warmed up, get their noses warmed up so the handlers work pretty close watching their dogs."

The 56 searchers -- and the dogs -- worked an expanded search zone that had been limited to a one mile radius from the Children's Home but was expanded to a two-and-half mile radius.

And everyone face some tough conditions.

"It would be nice if it would warm up a little out here for all of our searchers and our dogs but we're forging forward," said Pennington County Chief Deputy Sheriff Willie Whelchel.

And the hope stayed alive.

"Of course we're optimistic that our search will be successful," said Lt. Kraig Wood from the Pennington County Sheriff's Office. "That's what we're hoping for, that's the whole goal: to find Serenity."

The search is scheduled to resume on Sunday morning.