Yesterday, (Dec 2) as I was flying my Phantom 4 drone using the DroneDeploy app, I lost connection between my controller and the aircraft and lost, and did not recover my drone.
I was flying a commercial mission for DroneBase, which was a contracted mission for StockpileReports.com. Worth noting that I flew a very similar mission three days prior with exact same aircraft, similar conditions, and lot size etc. No changes at all except the different location and KML file.
The location was on the grounds of a large quarry and paving business. The area was about 157 acres in size, and I set the mission up in DroneDeploy via a KML file that was included with the mission info. This was a Sunday, so there were no operations going on, and I met the client, Jeff, who works for the paving company as an inventory manager. He unlocked a gate and we drove to and area within the property where I could see pretty much the entire flight. The property was a large quarry pit with piles of material and a few structures, all less then 50ft high. There are hills and a tall ridge bordering the property by the flight altitude was set to 390ft, which I estimated to be at least 200ft higher then anything on the property including the high ridge to the SE. I scouted around the area a bit before flying and there were not high output power lines and there was a single cell tower, but it was about 1,000ft to the East and not in or near the flight path.
I loaded the DroneDeploy app, loaded the KML file, set the altitude and saved the flight plan. Then I double checked the estimated flight time (around 17min I believe) and then I picked a spot that was sufficiently distant from any structures, went through my manual pre-flight routine, loaded the DJI Go app, warmed up the aircraft, and waited till I got a green Ready to fly signal. I then hot swapped back to the DroneDeploy app, went through the final pre-flight items, and then hit the button to start the mission.
The aircraft promptly lifted off, climbed straight up to mission altitude, then flew to the start point. We watched as it turned to begin the first leg and then as it crossed in back of some distant structures, I lost site of it. After it did not appear again I noticed that the app had not shown any new images or forward tracking. The app still showed that it was connected and I moved my location around to see if I could get any update on the screen. I then switched over to the DJO Go app, and it immediately showed a black screen and the red “Aircraft disconnected” at the top of the display. I then went back in to the DroneDeploy app, and hit the home button, and it responded that the drone was returning to home… but after a few minutes it did not appear so I disconnected my device from the controller to try and get it to reconnect to the aircraft, as this has worked for me in the past. But we never saw the aircraft after that… We then got in my truck and drove to the rear of the property to see if I could reconnect, but never got anything. We went back to the original start location, hoping it would return on it’s own after a while, which I had experienced once before when flying nearly half mile away (as a distance test). At that time, I never did reconnect, but the aircraft returned on it’s own, so I was hoping it would do so again… but no luck.
We then drove back out on the property, but the last shot it took was over a heavily wooded, steep ravine area that went down in to a creek. It was not a safe place to try and walk down and there is no telling where the drone actually ended up since they often continue to fly when losing connection.
I have included some images below to help document this event. The first is the last shot that it took in DroneDeploy.
I have other images showing the surrounding area, but only allowed to post one image per post
I am hoping to get some help understanding what happened with this mission. Why the DD app lost connection, and why it did not return home (although I suspect the reason for that)