Photograph by Carsten Peter
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Sunset image of Enshi National Park
Photograph by Carsten Peter

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.