73 days with my Phantom 3 Professional before my first crash. Before I dive into exactly what happened I feel I must provide you with a backstory regarding my drone history. There is none. Once DJI released the Phantom 3 Professional was released, and I saw the price, I decided to purchase one. After flying the drone a few times I felt pretty comfortable with it. DJI really did a great job in making the drone extremely user friendly. The built in GPS is simply fantastic for keeping it in position and helping you control it. I spent those 73 days practicing...over lakes, buildings and even incorporating it in a few short films. I felt pretty confident in my flying abilities...until Monday, July 27, 2015 at 4:47pm. Here is a look at the last clip of the day.
I will be honest...it took me sometime to come to the point of making this knowledge public....it isn’t easy to share such a mistake online, however, that is part of being a filmmaker. We make mistakes. My reason for sharing my experience is in the hopes that someone, somewhere will benefit from this. So, here is what happened...I was out in the Fraser Valley shooting. I shot for about an hour and a half and had captured all the footage I had needed. Throughout the day I did notice that the conditions were windier than I had previously flown in. The drone was getting blown around a bit more than usual. I did find myself fighting the wind a bit and kept the drone away from the nearby 140ft trees near. I had my ‘spousal unit’ with me, acting as my spotter. It’s always good to fly with another set of eyes. We returned to the truck when I decided to capture one last shot (the irony there!). I launched the drone and watched it fly up and leave us as a tiny spec in frame (also known as the drone selfie). We waved goodbye as the drone began moving backwards and upwards away from us. Sadly, it was moving faster backwards than upwards and right into the path of the 140ft trees. Suddenly I realized it wasn’t going to clear the trees. I attempted to move the drone forward and full throttle up but it was too late. The prop hit the tree, causing the drone to drop from the 130ft marker, making contact with the many branches as it fell to the ground. My wife and I watched helplessly as it fell from branch to branch. I held my breath that it wouldn’t remain stuck halfway down the tree. After seven seconds of falling, the image on my iPad mini was gone, We no longer could see the drone in the tree. We both ran to the bottom of the tree to discover the drone sideways in a pile of bushes with its red lights on. A few feet away lay the 4K camera and snapped off gimbal. These two aren’t supposed to separate. I am now thankful for a several things. First, I am thankful no one was injured. I am also thankful the drone did not remain in the tree. I’m thankful that all the footage I shot that day was not lost. Upon returning to the truck I powered on the drone, without the camera, and flew it around. I was then also thankful the props were not damaged.
It does turn out I had damaged the drone in one of the worst ways possible. It wasn’t a simple quick fix of replacing a prop or two as a whole new gimbal was needed. Reluctantly, I carefully packed up and shipped to DJI in Los Angeles, California, to be replaced and repaired. Fifty four (54) days later my Phantom was returned to me, fixed and ready to go. On a side note, a few of my friends have the Phantom 3 Professional as well, so I was able to use theirs for certain shoots where a drone would be required.
So...what caused the crash and what have I learned?
I would like to blame it on wind, a technical error with the drone, but really it was my fault. I simply misjudged the distance from the street to the trees and I had become over confident with my 73 days of accident-free flying. Mistakes happen. I’d like to believe we learn from our mistakes and not just from our successes. Unfortunately, for me, it took a good drone crash to realize I am not invincible. We all make mistakes and judging by all the other drone crash videos on youtube, I am not alone.