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: 3665

Comment by Darrell Burkey on July 23, 2014 at 5:52pm

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.

Comment by Rob Burrows on July 23, 2014 at 8:18pm

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

Comment by Gary Mortimer on July 24, 2014 at 1:35am

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.

Comment by zouyu on July 24, 2014 at 1:39am


Comment by Paul Krajewski on July 30, 2014 at 1:22am

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."

Comment by Nicolas Vuignier on July 30, 2014 at 4:57am

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


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