Flying and Crashing My Drone in Santorini

It's been almost a year so I think I'm ready to tell this story. Spoiler alert, I crashed my drone into the Caldera wall in Santorini.

Last September my wife Diana and I began our honeymoon in Santorini, Greece. We stayed at the Kirini Suites in Oia and spent each day relaxing, exploring and feasting. As a photographer, I couldn't get enough of time-lapsing the night sky, taking beautifully easy photos as anywhere you pointed the camera was a postcard perfect picture, and of course, flying my DJI Phantom 3 Pro Drone that I lugged halfway across the world.

After a couple of successful missions, I woke up before what seemed like the entire island and decided to take flight. There was a slight breeze, heat was low as it was early, and a massive cruise ship directly below us in front of the Nea Kameni crater. The initial noise of the propellers was so loud I thought it would wake up the entire island but once I launched from our patio the noise disappeared and nothing but incredible visuals filled my viewfinder. Sweeping shots of the entire island, volcano pans, flying into the clouds, runs along the Caldera wall. Everything was perfect. I was having so much fun in fact that I immediately disengaged the emergency return home alarm when my battery hit 30%. I got this. I decided to do one last sweep out to the crater then back over the cruise ship before bringing it safely home. Obviously, the Greek Gods had a different plan. 

Over the Aegean as the sun began burning hot, the winds began picking up. For a drone, as it relies on several civilian satellites to steady the flight, this meant the battery had to work extra hard to steady it draining at a much faster rate than expected. At 20%, I began pulling back home from the furthest point. Due to the winds and speeding back home, the draw on the battery was massive and, something I was not aware of, once it hit 10% the drone automatically engaged the lovely safety feature called "auto landing." 

OK, so you crashed your drone, it's down and you're not sure where it is but, no man left behind right? From that moment, I made it my new mission to retrieve whatever is left and hopefully salvage the card with the raw files. Luckily i had a general idea of location from the GPS tracking on viewfinder.   

After an exhaustive hour and half of scaling walls, tiptoeing through hotel patios, hiking over rooftops and basically covering every inch of the general area it went down, I was about to give it up when, I finally found a worker at a nearby hotel who saw where it crashed...on the side of the volcanic ash island, midway down the wall. Using a telephoto lens I was able to spot the wreckage and proceeded to, admittedly extremely unwisely, find a path and scramble out to retrieve what was left.

Disclaimer: DO NOT climb on the mountainside of Santorini. 

So, in the end, I did find my drone, salvage the footage, and cut a nice "In Memoriam" movie included below. If you fly a drone, you will most likely crash it at some point. Maybe not this dramatically, but accidents do happen. Constant situational awareness is essential, a spotter keeping two eyes on the drone in the air is preferable, and once you hit that 30% marker, bring it home or have an emergency landing zone ready to save it!

Reach out with any questions on what to do, or more importantly, what not to do when flying your drone. 

NOTE: DJI was able to repair the broken parts for a couple of hundred bucks once I got back.