Wonderful to see these flying miniaturised cameras soar skywards above our heads, their high pitched whine always drawing a crowd. Yet although we get more and more skilled in piloting the little buzzing marvels of modern technology, they still can exhibit a mind of their own as they head off cheerfully on a mission entirely of their own creation, getting smaller and smaller as they head to the horizon.
I once joined a hot air ballon crew as they raced down country lanes in an elderly Land Rover trying to work out where their quarry would be landing, down country lanes, and eventually going through a large gate into a muddy field as the ballon made a less than gentle landing. We were there to rescue the huge canopy, take the basket and stow in a large trailer carried behind the vehicle. All that reminds me of the chase, on foot, of the runaway drone, eyes skyward, running down paths, across fields or streets, knowing it will be much harder to retrieve if we are not directly underneath the thing should the electrical motor suddenly run out of juice. Our greatest challenge the drone to gently plummet, silently, to the ground. The idea, of course, is to try to catch it before impact.
But we are on the Mekong Delta, filming and photographing at a small local school when the drone decides it doesn’t want to return to base. Our soundie’s only thought is to protect the expensive device from a watery end, so with eyes focussed on its rapidly retreating shape silhouetted against the sun, he takes off across a rice paddy.
“STOP!” our local UN provided guide bellows, with surprising force, for up to then she had been rather shy and softly spoken. “You are in one of the most heavily land mined regions in the world. Step back in your own tracks as best you can, slowly, carefully.” We all watched the painstaking retreat with agonised bated breath. He was OK. We got the drone back, eventually with local help and knowledge. Things can be different in Cambodia with the hideous legacy of past conflict.