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Not every interaction between strangers on the internet is terrible. Sometimes things turn out OK.
When Lloyd Field lost his drone in the water off the coast of Vancouver, Canada, he thought it was gone forever. After trying to recover the drone himself, he went to the internet for help and found a freediver on YouTube who lived in his area. A quick exchange of messages later and the stranger swam into the water and, against the odds, recovered Field’s drone.
Field is a drone enthusiast and the machine he lost was a small DJI Mini 2. It weighs less than a pound and was a Christmas gift from his children. He lives in Vancouver near the Tsawwassen Delta. On January 15, after he finished work, he took his family to the beach and decided to christen the new drone.
Field had been flying the drone less than half an hour when it went into the delta. “It was completely my fault,” Field told Motherboard over the phone. “I saw something in the water that looked like a seal so I did a low fly to try and see what it was. When I realized it wasn’t a seal, I pushed down on the joystick instead of on my camera and I put the drone in the water.”
His kids didn’t witness the drone crash, but quickly learned it had happened. “They were playing on the beach up-a-ways and then they heard my audible scream and came running over to me very sad,” Field said.
The crash happened about 500 feet out from shore in water five feet deep. Recovering it wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be difficult. The next day, Field rounded up a friend and his brother to see if he could find the drone. “I was in an inflatable rubber dinghy, it kept losing air. It was terrible,” Field said. “And I had one oar with a giant fishing magnet on it, but we weren’t anywhere even close to where it was.”
Defeated, Field went home. “I was bumming really hard,” he said. The next morning, Field’s fiancé said it was too bad they couldn’t find a scuba diver to go look for it. That gave Field an idea. “I jumped onto YouTube….and I came across a guy with a channel PNW Samson. I left a comment on the guys video, just really grasping at straws and he got back to me right away. Within two hours, he and his buddy were out there and they found it. It was awesome.”
Samson has been running his YouTube channel for a little more than a year. His videos are extremely chill free diving sessions where he and his friends explore the water and often encounter strange animals. He was already at the beach when he saw Field’s message. “It was clear,” he told Motherboard on the phone. “Really clear and calm. I was looking out at the water kind of wishing I could dive. Then he messaged me, and asked me if I could go look for his drone. And it was the exact location I was already looking at…I asked my wife and she thought it was for a pretty good cause as well so she gave me the approval and I grabbed my gear and drove down there.”
Samson didn’t have high hopes for finding the drone. At this point, it had been in the water for about 48 hours. The visibility in the delta is often bad and the tide tends to pull lighter objects, like a small drone, out into the ocean. But Samson was lucky and, with the help of a friend, he recovered Field’s drone in half an hour.
Samson filmed the recovery and uploaded it to his YouTube channel. “When you see the guy’s face it’s priceless,” he said. “Every time I watch the video, I smile seeing how happy and stoked he was. He has a bunch of drones, but this one was sentimental to him because his children got it for him for Christmas.”
The salt water in the delta wrecked the Mini 2. Even its SD card was ruined, but Field is still happy. He’s got a warranty on it, and DJI will replace it for free. He plans to use the drone when he volunteers for Wings of Mercy, a group that uses drones to help find missing people in wooded areas. “He was a stand up guy,” Field said of Samson. “Especially for someone who just met me off YouTube. I’m still shaking my head that this harebrained scheme came together.”
“It’s nice,” Field said. “In the 90s, you never thought it would be possible that you’d be calling somebody on YouTube to help you find your missing helicopter. It’s unreal.”