State's drone that lost fight with bald eagle recovered

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

The drone that lost a dogfight with an eagle has been found, officials said Thursday.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy said it recovered the drone from the bottom of Lake Michigan.

Officials said they recovered a drone from Lake Michigan that went down after losing a fight to a bald eagle last month.

The flying machine, a Phantom Pro 4 Advanced drone, went down last month after it met up with a bald eagle south of Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula. It was documenting erosion to the Lake Michigan shoreline to help residents and communities better cope with high-water issues.

Officials said the agency's so-called Willful Eagle Trauma Team Engaged in Retrieval, or WETTER, pulled the drone from the lake bed Tuesday at almost the exact GPS coordinates of its last transmission. They said it was resting upside down in the muck and missing a propeller, but otherwise showed little evident damage from the encounter.

"We wish we had a story where we located it with the sonar and the camera and pulled it up," Brian Eustice, a geologist with the state agency, said in a statement. "But it was just right there. We couldn't believe we found it so easily." Eustice was joined in the successful drone hunt by geological technicians Mike Priebe and Brian Lower.

Officials said a damage report and the drone's SD card with video were sent to Lansing Wednesday where technicians will see if machine's lengthy submarine act ruined the video. If not, there still won't be any video of the fight with the bald eagle because it was in "Return Home" mode and not recording at the time.

The agency's drone operators are exploring methods of keeping drones – and raptors – safer in the future, officials said. Possibilities include painting or applying "skins" that make the drones look less like seagulls, better procedures for identifying high-risk areas, and different procedures and technology for recovering downed units.

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez