Amateur drone pilot finds man missing for three days

Apparel-company owner David Lesh found a missing elderly man in a bean field Saturday using a camera-equipped drone.

When Virginia resident Guillermo DeVenecia went missing last Wednesday, police and searchers were dispatched to find the 82-year-old man, who suffers from dementia and hearing loss.

For three days, police, search dogs, a helicopter, and hundreds of volunteers combed heavily wooded areas and fields around DeVenecia's Fitchburg home to no avail. Concerned for his safety as the search dragged on, Fitchburg police issued a news alert to all residents to be on the lookout for the missing man.

It took David Lesh about 20 minutes to find DeVenecia with a drone.

Lesh usually uses his drone to photograph skiers and snowboarders for his Colorado sports-apparel company, Virtika. Hearing about the missing man, Lesh, his girlfriend, and her father took to the skies on Saturday above a 200-acre soybean field to aid in the search.

"I thought what would happen would be we'd be able to give them the peace of mind to cross of some more areas quickly," Lesh's girlfriend, Katie Gorman, told local NBC news affiliate WMTV.

According to Gorman's father, Gary, he didn't think at the time that they'd find DeVenecia alive and safe.

"To be honest, when David was flying the drone over the bean fields, we thought we were looking for a body," he toldreporters.

Using a FPV, or first-person-view controls, Lesh was able to fly above about 200 feet above the area and view it through the drone's camera. He canvased the field, which might have taken volunteers many hours, in just a handful of minutes.

At the end of the flight around 1 p.m., Lesh said he saw DeVenecia through his camera, standing in the bean rows.

"As we were making the last turn to fly it, we noticed a man out in the field sort of stumbling, looking a little disoriented," Lesh told reporters.

Lesh and his group carried DeVenecia out of the field and drove him to the local search command center and his worried wife.

"To get a hug from someone's wife when they've been missing, just a tear-filled hug, is a feeling I won't forget for a long time," Katie Gorman told reporters.

Despite being without food, water, or shelter for three days, DeVenicia was found in good condition, suffering only from some mild dehydration, according to police. Reports indicate that he had no idea he'd been gone that long or that a massive search was underway.

Views: 3686

Comment by Daniel Lukonis on July 23, 2014 at 7:41am

Maybe we need to start up a civilian drone patrol (coordinate with civilian air patrol) for stuff just like this.

Comment by Dwgsparky on July 23, 2014 at 8:20am

Great result, 

A happy ending that everyone would want. 

something else to send to the FAA?

Comment by John Moore on July 23, 2014 at 8:50am

Great story

Comment by Eric Thomas on July 23, 2014 at 9:16am

You can make a serious case that this UAV saved a guy's life.  They might not have found that old guy for weeks.

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on July 23, 2014 at 9:20am

The sad part is, this guy's company just popped up on the FAA's radar, and now he'll probably get a C&D order. ;) 

Comment by Quadzimodo on July 23, 2014 at 9:50am
Headline should read "Hobbyist defies FAA, rescues missing person".
Comment by Scott Quartochi on July 23, 2014 at 10:06am


Well put!

Comment by Stephen Zidek on July 23, 2014 at 10:07am

What ever happened to that Texan search and rescue group using copters, are they still held up in court?

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on July 23, 2014 at 10:11am
Comment by Eric Thomas on July 23, 2014 at 10:39am

Here's an updated post; it says that Equusearch is back in the air:

The FAA's Cease-And-Desist Orders to Drone Pilots Are Bogus, Appeals Court Rules



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