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.