A black and white GoPro Karma drone used to support Ascension Lutheran Church went missing on Sept. 3 in the Chapel Hills community. The church is seeking the public’s help in the drone’s recovery.

A local church is asking the community’s help in recovering a drone that went missing in the Chapel Hills area recently.

Mary Stoneback, deacon of Ascension Lutheran Church, 2505 N. Circle Drive, received the drone as a gift from her parents four months ago to assist her in producing video projects for the church. Church member Patrick DeLoughry was test flying the drone at about 7:30 p.m., Sept. 3 on London Carriage Grove when something interfered with the drone’s navigation and control systems.

The drone is a black and white GoPro Karma with camera and stabilizer measuring 12-inches wide, 16-inches long and 4-inches high. The drone, valued at more than $1,000, is used chiefly for video productions. It was last detected heading southeast over The Road at Chapel Hills church on Parliament Drive.

According to Patrick, the drone reported “Compass Interference” soon after takeoff. The drone then reverted to “Manual Mode,” which requires the operator to stabilize and navigate the drone independently. In addition to the sudden change in operation mode, the drone began to drift south/southeast without any controller input, Patrick said.

“By the time I was starting to regain control of the drone, it had already drifted nearly one-half mile away and the video began to cut out. The last image it sent back was of the roofs of several homes in The Parc at Briargate apartment complex, and it was continuing to drift south at approximately 10 mph,” Patrick said.

The drone is designed to “Auto Land” when it loses contact with the controller, Patrick said. “The last contact was over a residential area, but there are open fields and woods further south of where the drone was last in contact,” Patrick said.

“My hope was that it would set itself down immediately in the vicinity where I lost contact with it. However, after several hours of searching, it was nowhere to be found. Our fear is that the compass malfunction may have caused it to drift further and further south until it eventually ran out of power or hit some obstacle.”

Patrick and his dad, Jim, were the only witnesses to the incident. Both men searched extensively for the drone but found nothing. “He (Patrick) had just made a software fix and it seemed OK. Then something interfered. I was watching it happen from my house and offered to help in the search,” Jim said.

“We spent several hours trying to locate it but with no success. The camera equipment on the drone and the stabilizer make this loss very significant.”

Patrick added, “Upon contacting the police, we were referred to a ‘Lost and Found’ registry on the website. We never spoke with an officer, only a receptionist.”

Patrick said he has no reason to believe someone tampered with the drone. “All we can say for certain is that the drone malfunctioned immediately after taking off. We have no reason to suspect that anyone intentionally interfered with it, and this certainly wouldn’t be the only case of a drone exhibiting sudden anomalous behavior,” Patrick said.

“After doing some research, it seems that proximity to electrical substations or powerlines can cause this type of interference, although there were none of these within the immediate vicinity of where we were operating the drone.”

According to Jim, the drone’s serial number won’t help the person who finds and seeks to return the drone to Stoneback. Although the drone is brand new, it can’t be used without the sophisticated control mechanism, Jim said.

“Pat thinks it has been found, but the person has no way of knowing who it belongs to. It is not worth much without the controller. GoPro doesn’t make or sell the other components needed for it to work anymore. Worst case would be if it landed on a roof somewhere,” Jim said.

Stoneback said she is willing to allow whomever finds the drone to use it for a specific need. “For me, using a drone provides a different perspective in any project. In the congregation it provides additional opportunities to capture the activities and life of the community.”

Anyone with information leading to the recovery of the drone may contact Jim DeLoughry at 719-201-1738.

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