• October 14, 2013

Crashing a Helicopter Camera in China’s Enshi Grand Canyon

Think you’re having a bad day? Videographer/photographer Keith Ladzinski just sent me this short video from the field of a costly radio-controlled heli-cam crash that happened while he was on assignment for us in southern China. Our story, due out next spring, follows a team of three North Face climbers exploring some of the most unique karst formations in the world.

In the following video, National Geographic photographer Carsten Peter and remote imaging engineer Brad Henning are attempting the second flight of a remote-operated heli-camera in Enshi Grand Canyon. (Brad flies the device while Carsten operates the camera controls.) We all hoped that by having this device and a skilled flier like Brad we would get amazing aerial images and video of climbers moving on these surreal-looking rock formations. That is, if technology will cooperate! But five minutes into the flight, just as Brad was bringing the heli-cam back in for a landing, it started acting erratically, no longer responding to the control inputs.

Epic Fail or Resurrection?

The camera gimbal was sheared off; three of its arms were broken, including retractable landing gear; and many cables were ripped off, among other issues. According to an email from Carsten it looked like a completely failed mission. But Brad was able to miraculously repair the copter, and they got in 20 more flights before he had to depart.

With partial funding from NGS’s Expeditions Council, the full expedition team includes: NGM photographer Carsten Peter, videographer Keith Ladzinski, NG remote imaging engineer Brad Henning, heli-cam operator Chad Copeland, and North Face climbers Matt Segal (team leader), Emily Harrington, and Cedar Wright.

To see more great video and stills from this expedition until mid-October, follow us on Instagram, where videographer Keith Ladzinski has been posting short videos, and follow the climbers to see their expedition photographs.

There are 22 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Carlos
    January 4, 2015

    What a shame , this happens a lot with dji products lucky I have always designed and built my multirotors from scratch using the best handpicked parts/electronics and open source firmware .

  2. Karl
    November 20, 2013

    I build my own multirotor frames and they have been very successful so far. I’m just finishing a S800 type hex with 3 leg retractable landing gear and 3 axis gimbal. I know if I lost that I would be gutted even though its a third of the cost of a S800. I have done a build log for anyone whos interested you can find it here http://www.copter-cam.co.uk/multirotor-build-blog.php

  3. Zulkarnain
    November 13, 2013

    I crashed my S800 aircraft last month! It was scary and I cannot think about it as it might fly somewhere and hit somebody! Serious safety issue. Rebuild and now I build smaller one and encourage my customer to use my mini aircraft but the video quality is still acceptable.

  4. Jason Eaton
    November 9, 2013

    My guess, it was likely last year’s model (I have over 500 flights logged on mine and it’s identical) People can say what they want about DJI, I have over 1500hrs flying they’re gear and only 1 mishap due to geomagnetic interference. Last years S800 model had some engineering flaws which have been addressed for the most part. Happy to hear you managed to repair it, if you ever need a hand drop me a line! You guys are living my dream!!!

    Tip I learned from experience for you Brad Henning, be careful on full speed reverse flight. Due to the angle of the arms the copter creates a funnel like effect in the air and it fools the electronics causing severe altitude drops. Happened twice on my last shoot in Newfoundland.

    Jason Eaton
    Toronto, Canada
    Aerial Cinematographer

  5. Cory
    November 8, 2013

    We fly octos for filming jobs, and had a similar incident. A prop broke off in high winds, and with the flight controller dumping power into the motor with no prop, we lost power, and the octo started to oscillate. I managed to regain stability but in high winds, and lost of some power, i couldn’t fly it back to the oil rig we were filming.
    When we attempted to use the “Return to home” function, the octo flipped over and dived into the water. We couldn’t locate it in 30m waters, it was a total lost.

  6. Deyvisson Bastos Silva
    November 8, 2013

    Guys, this is my aerial footage. The first aerial footage from mountains and rock climbinb.

  7. terry fong
    November 1, 2013

    i think you must have hit a gps blid spot

  8. Rowshan Ara
    October 26, 2013

    nice picture

  9. martha
    October 25, 2013

    Solo ablo español por fabor

  10. Thomas Mahoney
    October 24, 2013

    Should have purchased a Chopper for REM video.

  11. Timmy
    October 18, 2013

    Looks like another spectacular DJI failure, when will people stop using their trash for serious business?

  12. rajendra ray
    October 18, 2013

    What a shot!!!

  13. George Bruce Wilson
    October 17, 2013

    I work with RC helicopters all the time shooting rock climbing, high-lining, Etc. I think anyone who uses them in a mountain situation such as that can relate to this happening….its happened to me a few times, but congrats on fixing it and moving on!

  14. Mark Shaw
    October 17, 2013

    0:50secs in…oh dear! but what an amazing place to film. Is that a DJI S800 rig?

  15. Marco
    October 16, 2013

    I’m a cameraman and photographer use octo dji and I can understand how you felt at that moment.
    I’m sorry for what happened, when I fly I’m afraid for this.
    congratulations for having repaired and not having given up everything!
    good luck!!
    Marco Monti

  16. Nasser Mkugwa
    October 15, 2013

    Nice picture….lovely

  17. Michael
    October 14, 2013

    Still this technique no is stable. But glad you can repair the item.

  18. Juan Cappello
    October 14, 2013

    As Ed posted, I’m glad you were able to repair it, that equipment must be expensive to fix. 😛

  19. SorieDeenSesay
    October 14, 2013

    Much love

  20. Jose Villacreses
    October 14, 2013

    I got the DJI Quadcopter, i will die if i crash my phantom, good one, and good luck.

  21. Ed
    October 14, 2013

    Glad you were able to repair it. The rock face they are climbing looks very intimidating & perhaps not stable. Be safe

  22. Aftab Khalifzai
    October 14, 2013


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