Drone flight in the dark

Our work is nearly back to normal, as normal as it ever gets. I spent a day at the ‘death farm’ with the drone but better not tell you the results as some criminals may be able to benefit from them. It was very encouraging from the view of the crime fighters but not the criminal. It does constantly amaze me how spin offs from one experiment throw up other useable results.

As for crime scenes this week was relatively few for me due to recent events although i did have to help out a colleague from another department. Any excuse for me to use the drone and try new toys.

Recently i had bought a set of lights that i could add to the legs of the drone. Our drone has retractable legs which is brilliant for filming but harder to see at distance as the profile is smaller. I order what are basically very bright bicycle lights that strap to the legs. They are bright and became useful for the recent request.

I was looking to leave a couple of days back when i picked the phone up and realised someone wanted assistance and it was an opportunity to play. I arrived at the scene awhile later as it was a bit out of my local territory but not worth flying so took the vehicle. When i arrived i met a colleague who i have met a couple of times at conferences but don’t generally work with on a daily basis. He has asked me and the drone to attend as he has heard about my willingness to try new things with drones. I should say other units are using drones and similar equipment to me but due to my teams importance within the country we have a larger budget thus are able to try things others can’t allows afford to do. The scene was a drugs house that has basically caught fire and totally gutted. The fire department had done their usual great job of putting out the fire and washing away what evidence there may have been. Not their fault at all as they have their job to do and they do it brilliantly.

I was asked along as the building was extremely unstable and the fire department were not keen on clearing the top floor as the building was extremely unstable. It was suggested that i have a try in flying a drone in to the building and trying to check the building without putting anyone in harms way. The grim reaper may have got his hands on a drug dealer but he wasn’t going to get his hand on one of us.

The house has a section of roof missing as it had collapsed in on itself. It was easily large enough to get the drone through but you’d lose sight of it. They wanted to know if i could fly either through the house or in through the roof and check the top floor for any evidence that may need retrieving at some point.

I don’t, as a rule fly without visual line of sight but as its a crime scene and the only thing that will happen is crashing the drone in a building that will be knocked down i thought i’d give it a go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I fitted the lights to the legs and after the usual safety precautions i flew up to the hole in the roof and then pointed the camera straight down. If you have a camera why not use it to make sure your going straight down. I went past the point of no return and the drone was gone out of sight and into the top floor cavity. The lights certainly helped to illuminate the burnt out area. That was one good point of the exercise, proof of concept, lights do help see in an arson scene. No sh+t Sherlock as they say.

I managed to fly around very slowly looking at the area for any evidence. The officers in the case were also looking at a larger screen so they could ask me to hover at certain places they found interesting. After a couple of nervous minutes flying out of sight we all noticed something at the same time. “Shit, what the f==k” were some the comments made. It was obvious to us all the shape was a charred body. Oops that was not what we wanted to see. The scene was now a potential murder scene. Different type of scene now but also a bloody dangerous one as someone was going to have to go in and retrieve the body. Not me but maybe the fire brigade once the structure had been made safe.

After that revelation it was time to fly back out. For those who don’t know most drone cameras face downwards but not upwards. There are some that do face up but ours isn’t one of them. A grinning officer face told me all i needed to know, he was wandering how i was going to fly out of the hole if i couldn’t see it. It was something that had occurred to me just after flying in. As  the thought rammed itself in to my sub subconscience i noticed a particular lump of charred furniture which i lowered towards whilst going through the hole. I returned the one to roughly the same spot and with the camera facing down so i stayed above the spot i slowly increased the height. Thank god it came out of the hole to an amazed group of officers. I did the honourable thing and didn’t tell them what i did, let the clever buggers work it out themselves.

It was a useful exercise and a welcome break from the other recent events. A change of surroundings can do you the world of good in the business.

Maybe some blood and guts in the next instalment. More than likely.



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