A couple of months ago I took the plunge and purchased an exciting new drone - the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2. I took the drone out on several test flights, and had 17 flights totaling about 2 hours of flight time. I took it out to a couple of weddings I was shooting, just to get aerial photos of their venues. Then, I took it to "field day" at a middle school, where I was going to get some video coverage of their fun and games at the school. And this is where I had the single most terrifying experience of my photography career.
Immediately upon sliding the "take off" slider, the drone ignored all commands from the remote controller! It went up into the air about 40-50 feet, and it swerved around randomly. I spent a TERRIFYING two minutes, just trying to get the drone to land. It WOULD NOT accept any commands from the remote control. Then, the drone decided to fly in an incredible burst of speed, straight into the field, where there were children playing soccer. Thankfully, it plowed into an empty part of the field, and no children (or adults) were hurt. I was so lucky!
I was shaken to my core at how dangerous that crash had been. All I could envision was having it come down and cut a kid's head, or some other terrible thing. I narrowly escaped a horrific situation, simply out of sheer luck. I had zero control over a device that I was responsible for, and things could have ended VERY badly.
There was a lot of damage to the drone - the camera, the gimbal, the outer case, the landing gear ... all damaged. Just looking at the type/extent of the damage, it was very obvious that this drone crashed very aggressively. Landing gear was shattered completely off the bottom. The damage extended throughout the entire drone - the bottom, the mid-area with the camera, and the top case was also ruined.
The very first thing I did was contact DJI, and explain this horrifying situation. I uploaded the flight data from my controller, and they agreed to analyze the data. Several days later, I was contacted, and they asked me to package up the drone and controller, and return them to DJI. They were covering the cost of the shipping, and I had assumed they were going to repair or replace it. How naive.
After they received the unit, they contacted me again, and explained that this entire accident was my fault. They 'discovered' that I had instructed the drone to crash at a horrific speed, in a field full of children. Right.
I understand that support staff aren't always the 'top of the food chain' in a large company. I requested that they appeal their decision, and send the information to someone else at DJI. I received another email agreeing to an appeal, then they asked me to export the flight data from my iPad so they could analyze it. I pointed out that this was the very first action that DJI had me take. In fact, I sent them the email response where I had been given my call tag to return the unit.
The next response just floored me - this is pilot error.
At this juncture, I'm absolutely furious that this large company has NO CONCERN for the danger of its product. I will never feel comfortable flying this crone where there are people. I did pay their fee, $366.00, to get the unit repaired. Honestly, that's a very reasonable rate for a unit that was crashed by the pilot. If I had done anything to cause the crash, I would be extremely grateful to pay $366 to get it repaired. But the reality is that this drone was completely out of control. The truth is: it's dangerous!
I have requested all of the data retrieved by DJI, and I will submit the information to the FAA. I have reached out to some other drone manufacturers, and I'll be looking for a unit that I feel is safe to fly where there are human beings nearby. The greatest frustration to me is that DJI shows no regard for the risk here. They refuse to acknowledge the reality that their drone went "rogue" and refused to function properly. They show nothing but corporate arrogance, and they ignore any sense of responsibility.
Hopefully this experience can help other photographers as they consider a drone if they plan to get one! I'll update here, if I hear back further from DJI or from the FAA. Hopefully we'll have more responsible actions to report down the road.