I am fortunate enough to be a member of the official media team for Power Monkey Camp, a one-week fitness retreat for adults in The Middle Of Nowhere, Tennessee, held twice a year (I think that's the actual name of the nearest town, or at least it should be). I had been training on FPV simulators for several months and practicing several times weekly with my DJI FPV drone in the field near my house, I was excited to put my new skills to the test at the Fall camp at the end of this past September.

The plan was to enter the scene with a dramatic swoop down to the lake, fly in over the beach at about 10-15 feet above ground and then take you on an unforgettable trip through, around, and over the campground. I am well aware of my piloting ability and limitations and I had no intention of getting crazy, just to create an experience no one had seen before.

I arrived at camp on Friday evening and plugged in the remote, the drone batteries, and the batteries for the goggles to make sure everything was ready for the morning's adventure. An hour or so after sunrise on Saturday I headed down to the cafeteria deck overlooking the beach and the lake, assembled the drone, and mounted the GoPro on top. I powered everything up, started the GoPro recording, donned the ridiculous looking FPV goggles, and took off to do 10 minutes or so of warm-up maneuvers.

When I felt ready to get to it, I went way out over the lake (at least several hundred feet away), did the dramatic swoop down to about 20 feet over the water - swooping too close to water is a bad idea, at least for me - and zoomed in over the beach with a few minor course-overcorrections which made the footage less smooth than what I was hoping for. Back out over the lake now for take 2 - the swoop went well, the trip back up over the beach went well, but this time I wasn't as close to the ground as I wanted to be and I ended up on a weird route I didn't love over a couple of trees. Third time's the charm right? Swoop: nice and smooth. Approach: nice and low. Route: right up the stairs, between the bushes, and up over the field. Much better, but I wanted to try something different.

Ok, fourth time's the charm. I dove the drone into a nice swoop approached the beach at a comfortable, easily controllable speed around 20 feet above ground, heading right toward the gap between the trees I wanted in the video, and then...

...the screen in my goggles went completely black. A moment later there was a bizarre-sounding "splash", then a moment of complete silence, then the sound of the rotors spinning, the splash again, then nothing. These events occurred over maybe 2 seconds.

The first clever thing that occurred to me when the goggles blacked out was, "dafuq?" During the next full second I desperately tried to simultaneously troubleshoot and resolve whatever the issue was, then I remembered the "Oh Shit" button on the remote (which literally makes the drone freeze and hover instantaneously in case of emergency). When I went to push it, a sickening sound of water instantly stopping the 37,000rpm 5.2" propellers echoed over the lake when my finger was halfway to the button. Then silence.

The entire forest had also gone silent as hundreds of thousands - if not more - of insects, birds, and small furry woodland creatures simultaneously stopped what they were doing, looked at the lake, and thought, "dafuq?"

My eyes grew wide (while still looking at nothing inside the goggles) and I thought, "That's not... It can't be! NOOO!!"

I was paralyzed, confused, angry, shocked, and lots of other words from thesaurus.com.

Maybe 1/2 second after that the rotors started spinning again, so I instantly slammed the left stick to full throttle hoping the drone would ascend away from certain death. Rather than ascending, however, I heard that "water stopping spinning propellers" sound again, and then complete silence. I can't imagine what the woodland creatures were thinking this time.

I jumped up, ripped off the goggles, and looked out at the lake in disbelief and horror as I saw...nothing. Well, that's not completely true. Roughly 50-75 feet from shore I saw gentle, circular ripples emanating from a roughly drone-sized spot of disturbed algae and some small bubbles among the otherwise perfectly calm, glassy water.

I'm betting the GoPro (which was still recording) captured a turtle turning its head toward the slowly sinking drone while swimming by, thinking, "dafuq is that?".

I'm not sure what I was thinking at that point, but I'm sure it involved hoping the giant lake monster my friend Meg is convinced lives in there would swim to the surface with my drone on its head, with an annoyed expression that could only mean, "dafuq is this?"

At a complete loss and having lost the ability to think rationally, I ran top speed to the lake, mounted the nearest paddleboard - fully clothed, including shoes, and with my phone in my pocket - and paddled out to the disturbance in the water. The lake was opaque out there, so I probed the water with the paddle thinking maybe I would bump - and therefore locate - my drone since I was sure it was still pretty shallow at that spot. Right?

Of course, I did not bump my drone. I also did not find the shallow bottom of the lake, even after I rolled up the sleeve on my favorite Power Monkey Camp sweatshirt, and reached as far underwater as I could with the paddle. Frustrated, I paddled back to shore, thankful at least that I didn't fall in.

While I was walking up the big hill to the main gym I came to the conclusion that I would go change into a bathing suit and go swimming. On my way I happened across BJ, the year-round caretaker of the camp and the grounds, and asked him how deep the lake was.

"Deep," BJ replied, emphasizing the word.

Wonderful. But all hope is not lost - it's a pretty big lake. Maybe it's relatively shallow where the drone went down.


I explained the morning's misadventure and asked if he had any idea about the depth approximately 50-75 feet off shore. Now, BJ is unbelievable. His wife, Osh, is unbelievable too. They are the people you go to when you need anything. Anything. They take care of everything at the camp. If you need it, they have it. And if they don't have it, they can get it, find it, or build it. They are all-seeing and all-knowing of every corner of the campground at all times. We all love them dearly and would do anything for them. But apparently these idiots hadn't sonar-mapped the lake floor so they could provide me with a simple digital topographical readout for the specific area I needed. Nor did they have any kind of one-man submersible I could take out for a quick ride to look for myself. I shook my head in disgust at their shortcomings.

Ok, not really. I realized that even if I did retrieve it, it would be thoroughly waterlogged and unusable, which was (probably) not their fault.

Maybe I could put it into a bowl of rice for a month or something.

But if I could find it then I would also retrieve my GoPro with the footage of that turtle. That was reason enough to keep me on task.

Up at the gym, I told my friend Jordan what had happened and explained that all I could do was change into some swim trunks and then head back down to the lake to search for my lost treasure.

Ten minutes later I was on the same paddleboard with the same paddle in the same spot - I think. It was hard to tell for certain. I was much better prepared that time, by which I mean I wasn't wearing a sweatshirt, a shirt, or shoes, and I had left my phone on the beach with my towel. Thankfully no one came to watch

From the safety of the paddleboard I looked down into the opaque, algae-rich lake water, wondering what the hell I thought I was doing. Memories of going to my friend's grandmother's lake house when I was a kid passed through my mind, as did the tactile recollection of what the bottoms of lakes feel like on bare feet. My drone was stuck in that muck, and it wasn't going to dig itself out. Another memory of standing in chest-deep water and stepping on something roughly the size of a baguette that wiggled violently in an attempt to save its own life had me second and third-guessing how badly I wanted to find that damn drone.

I considered just abandoning it to avoid risking my life swimming around in the murky home of Meg's monster, when it dawned on me that I was being a total weenie.

"Fuck it," I thought, and jumped in.

Holding onto the paddleboard like a baby holding his woobie, I took a few deep breaths, plunged into the green blackness head first, and swam downward. I propelled myself downward with arms outstretched in search of the bottom, hoping it was just a couple feet below where I had already looked earlier.

It was not.

Visibility was at best two or three feet so I certainly wasn't going to be able to spot it. I went a bit farther down, reaching out this way and that way with no contact. I could only see about 10 inches in front of my outstretched arms which was freaking me out a little. One more big kick downward just in case, and then I gave up and surfaced. I'm guessing I went about 12-15 feet down and that was plenty for this daring free diver. I didn't have the drone and I never found the bottom, but I also wasn't covered in green slime as I feared might be the case. So that was nice.

That's it, I accepted the fact that the drone and GoPro (probably still recording) were gone, lost in an apparently bottomless lake (read: at least deeper than 15 feet in that spot).

Defeated, I moped back up that damn hill to the gym to do some of the job I was actually there to do. When I walked in, Dave (the Head Power Monkey) came over to offer his condolences on my loss. So did Darnell, and a few other people. Apparently word had gotten out, and I really appreciated their support.

Life returned more or less to normal, and my drone at the bottom of the lake became the tongue-in-cheek joke for the week among the staff. Since it was equipment failure and not my fault I didn't mind, and joined in the laughter at the ridiculousness of it all.

The next day I contacted DJI about the equipment failure and to file a claim using the insurance I had purchased to protect me from exactly things like this. It was technically a "flyaway" since my controls failed and the drone did whatever it felt like doing after that, but DJI didn't see it that way. Reviewing the flight data from the black box on the drone (which was transmitted to the remote during the flight, transferred to the DJI app on my phone, and then uploaded to their servers via the cloud), they decided that it wasn't a flyaway situation after all, and that they would not be able to replace it for free as stated in the insurance.

No big surprise. DJI customer service is widely known to be as helpful as severe hemorrhoids on your wedding day, but less pleasant to deal with.

They did, however, offer to sell me a replacement for 40% off. Gee thanks. Maybe I should invite them to my next birthday party.

Since I still needed a replacement I bit the bullet and ordered the replacement drone, the total cost of which - after the 40% discount - was about $450. It was better than the $700-whatever the original replacement cost was, but it was still more than zero which is what it should have been. The drone arrived shortly after I came home from camp.

A couple days later I celebrated my 50th birthday, and my phone was vibrating like crazy with notifications about birthday wishes via social media, phone calls, and text messages. I'm always so grateful when reading the messages people leave for me, and this was no exception.

Then I received a text message that stood out. It was a message informing me that I had just received a Venmo payment of $50 from Dave with the message, "Birthday Drone!"

My first thought was, "dafuq?"

Then a few seconds later I received one from his wife, Sadie. Then another from Jordan. Then one from BJ. I was as shocked as when I was standing on the cafeteria deck trying to figure out what the hell just happened to my drone.

Similar messages came in a total of nine times within about 30 minutes from various people from camp. Holy. Shit. Gratitude isn't nearly a strong enough word to describe how I felt/feel about that. I am not at all ashamed to admit that the tears were flowing in abundance during and after what was certainly a coordinated attack. The world would be a FAR better place if more people were half as incredible as any of these amazing human beings (even BJ and Osh, despite their shortcomings with marine technology).

And to the fine folks at DJI customer service, a friend of mine has a message for you regarding how you handled the situation.