Amsterdam drone pilot laughs off icy drone rescue

A still from the drone's video footage captures Spanjer just before he leaps into the water (Acturlututu/Twitter). A still from the drone's video footage captures Spanjer just before he leaps into the water (Acturlututu/Twitter)

A drone pilot's misadventure became an internet sensation when Zwier Spanjer's quad-copter captured its own heroic rescue by the 26-year-old Amsterdammer.

Mid-flight in Schellingwoude last November, the gadget's battery dropped to a dangerously low point, causing the GPS to malfunction and direct it to land in a dam filled with icy water. The video recorded by the descending device depicts Spanjer leaping into the water without hesitation, managing to catch the quad-copter moments before it hit the surface.

Spanjer says that the idea to buy the gadget was not a spur of the moment decision. His interest in the concept arose from a movie he watched as a child, in which a character's eye was eaten by an eagle. The character could then see the view from the sky as the eagle saw it. In an interview with NL Times, Spanjer explained the impact the movie had on him as a child; he became fascinated with seeing the world from the sky.

When he found the quad-copter online, Spanjer says the people around him were very excited. "A friend of mine is a semi-professional skater, and he said, you've got to buy this. We can make such awesome skate movies."

Oddly enough, Spanjer's mother had predicted that he would fly the device into water on his first day of using it. He says it's one of the things that fueled his dramatic leap into the dam. "I couldn't let it fall, my mum would laugh at me forever," said Spanjer.

While the move certainly looks heroic, Spanjer reveals it was not a smooth descent. "I was moving really slowly; the mud at the bottom of the pond was way thicker than I thought it would be - I almost didn't make it."

It's lucky that he did. The man has quickly become an internet sensation, after encouragement from his sister prompted him to upload the film onto the media-sharing website Youtube. When it was re-blogged by other websites, the footage went viral and quickly gained 15 million hits.

"I didn't really understand what viral meant until this week", laughs Spanjer.

The video's popularity earned him a high-yielding deal with LiveLeak, a popular company that works with viral internet videos, and a Skype interview with a Japanese television program. "I really liked that, just chatting with some cool Japanese dudes," said Spanjer.

After receiving thousands of messages via social media, Spanjer says that "happy reactions [like] 'nice catch,' etcetera, they're the best". He also commented on the many angry messages he's received from "real drone-building geeks", who've expressed anger at amateurs flying ready-made quad-copters and calling them drones, attracting media attention to their hobby.

In response, Spanjer says he doesn't see "the point of getting angry" and that "in modern society, everything that could get screwed-up, will get screwed-up by the internet anyway."

"I filter out the negativity and focus on all the positive stuff instead. No-one gets anything from anger."

The video has also been honored with parodies."My favorites are Whitney Houston's 'I will always love you' and the spoof of Castaway. You know. Wilson. WILSON!" said Spanjer amid laughs. He says he also gets a laugh from an article published on Friday January 9th in UK's The Independent, which mocked Australian cricketer Steve Smith's failed catch by comparing it to Spanjer's successful one.

Spanjer is in the process of making plans for a second video. Friends have suggested that he start a Youtube channel where drones are flown into things like tall buildings or moving trains, but Spanjer thinks it's more likely that the next video will be of the Wadden Islands off the northern coast of the country. "I've seen images of the islands from the sky and it's a whole different kind of beautiful, you can see all the patterns the water makes around the trees. I'm curious to make that."

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