GIBAS II Captain's Logs
April 10, 2016
On the morning of April 10, after a short briefing, First Officer Dylan Berry, Officer Alyssa Gibas and I left on over a 4 hour journey to Marlinton, West Virginia, toward the last recorded location of the Gibas II. Our destination was set to Luster Shrader Road, the road closest to the last transmitted coordinates, where we would search the area and continue in the direction of the crafts trajectory. We could see from the data that the craft had been slowing down, so it could be assumed that it had landed safely somewhere nearby.
As we traveled eastward across the state of West Virginia, we watched the Appalachian landscape transforming from foothills to mountains, with snow accumulated at high elevations and dense woods along the mountainsides. I tried not to let my own anticipations effect the morale of the crew, but taking in the landscape of the surrounding mountains, and without coordinates of a landing site, I had already lost hope of returning with the Gibas II.
Once arrived at Luster Shrader Road, we cautiously traversed down the seemingly normal street, which quickly narrowed to one lane and transformed from pavement to dirt and mud. Cattle pastures and thick woods alternated along the mountainous terrain to either side of us. With little visual scope into the woods, and faded yellow “No Trespassing” signs posted along the entire route, Luster Shrader Road was not an area where we wanted to exit the vehicle. But we kept an open eye and moved slowly. The only sign of human life along the rural dirt trail was a group that had passed on four wheelers, who gave us an unfriendly glare and kept moving, and a monster truck near the end of the road. The sky was dark and overcast, and the outlook was grim. Even the cows were beginning to look angry.
At the end of Luster Shrader, we were faced with a choice. Turn right, down Hill County Road, or left, and bear the unforeseeable hurdles that would no doubt be awaiting us without mercy on Warrior Way. Our GPS did not register us on any marked road, and in that moment, we decided not to tempt fate, and played it safe by taking Hill County Road, which was the assumed direction of civilization and of our craft.
Human life was not abundant. We slowed down only once out of curiosity in front of a large sign painted on scrap wood and nailed to a tree that read “Collecting Hats,” but we didn’t stop. After a few more minutes of driving we began devising other ways to penetrate the community, via newspaper ads and community flyers. My crew was beginning to accept our defeat.
During our drive to Marlinton, we had lost cell phone service for nearly an hour and a half before reaching our set destination. We now understood why the GPS of the Gibas II was not able to transmit landing coordinates; there was simply no satellite signal in this exceptionally rural area of the Appalachian Mountains. Without access to our own GPS, we pulled into a church parking lot and unfolded an old paper map of West Virginia from AAA. We found the best way to backtrack without repeating our experience on Luster Shrader Road.
Our surroundings looked familiar, but I couldn’t be sure that we weren’t lost. The curves in the roads were all beginning to look the same. But about 20 minutes after we had turned around to find our way back to civilization, Officer Berry suddenly shouted “THERE IT IS!” I slammed on the brakes and jerked the car to the side of the road and into the closest driveway. We immediately jumped out of the car and as I made visual contact with the craft in the yard behind the house next door, we hurriedly scrambled back into the car and turned into the gravel driveway of the house we had passed.
As if by miracle, in the midst of towering mountains and impenetrable forests, there it was, the Gibas II, tangled in the branches of the short young trees next to a driveway, completely intact, all parts attached. In complete disbelief, I ran up to the craft and began pulling it from the low branches. With assistance from Officer Gibas, the craft was recovered and inspected. I didn’t believe that it was real. I held onto it as if it were going to float back into the skies.
With adrenalin flowing, we continued our way back toward ground control. The drive home held a completely transformed outlook. The skies were blue and there was sudden beauty in the landscape of the mountains. We sang loudly and laughed about our voyage. I repeatedly asked to make sure the craft was still there; I needed to make sure it wasn’t a dream.
Back at ground control, as we celebrated with pizza and beer, we anxiously pried open the back of the camera’s waterproof housing. It had been compressed under the gravity of its descent and the plastic was nearly fused shut. With the help of a screwdriver we were able to gain access to the memory card, and inserted it into the computer’s drive to load the footage.
As I searched through the file folders automatically created by the camera, my heart sank into my stomach. The folders where empty. The first folder in the list was entirely missing. We tried other methods of reading the memory card, but it was useless. Our craft had come back without the footage it was sent to receive.
Explanations for this phenomenon are varied. Technical malfunction seems probable. Electrical storms and condensation interference or ice accumulation have also been suggested. Or it is possible that our Gibas II was witness to something it was never meant to see?
While we must accept this defeat, we are still able to celebrate the fact that in the unlikeliest of scenarios, and by an inconceivable twist of fate, the Gibas II was recovered in one piece. With the craft undamaged and equipment functional, the Gibas II seems destined to fly again.