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.

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  • ahaha david?! I know this guy! amazing story.

  • I for one am just glad to see a little positive Drone-related Press for a change. I was beginning to feel like a red-headed stepchild...


    "It's like beating your knee with a monkey wrench; cuz it feels so good when you stop."


  • Moderator

    You can hear Gene talking to Patrick about the Equusearch case here

    If you would like to support UAS SAR Ops and learn how to do it your self you might like Genes book.


  • @ Daniel Lukonis.  I like the idea of the civilian drone patrol!

  • I don't think it's fair to call him a hobbyist. That's pro gear and the article states he uses it in his business. It's great that he found the missing man. I haven't considered multirotors for search and rescue given the short flight times but here's a great example of how useful they can be. Nice to see a positive story with a wonderful outcome.

  • Would have been interesting to see the downlink video of the find, but technical problems undoubtedly prevented that from being recorded.

  • Mathew how do you know he got lucky? I don't get your point at all. Like Quadzimodo said this is a toy that possibly saved a mans life.
  • He will not doubt a cease and desist letter from the FAA, then they'll send him a letter telling him to ignore their letter, then arrest him for ignoring their letter.  Almost as efficient as the UN.

  • Developer

    The way I see it the problem is two fold.

    1. FAA knows that with a low threshold for commercialization of airspace, their role and ability to tightly control will be lost. So they are just as much fighting for their own relevance as the "safety" of the air above us.

    2. On top of this all the big players have no interest in making it easy for small entities to operate commercially. And they have the seats in committees (and money) to make sure of it.

    And those two factors combined makes for the interesting knee-jerk reactions from FAA we have come to expect lately.

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