Dozens of Drones Devoured by Lava

Vala Hafstað

Photographer Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson lost contact with his drones at the eruption site on the Reykjanes peninsula, Southwest Iceland, yesterday, resulting in one being engulfed by lava and the other one being damaged.

As we reported earlier, Ragnar has photographed countless volcanic eruptions in Iceland during his career.

He tells Morgunblaðið that his drone is not the only one to have been devoured by the lava flow. He knows of dozens, if not hundreds of such instances. He suspects that irregular magnetic field is to blame, caused by hot metals that emit from the craters.

Morgunblaðið contacted drone engineer Jón H. Arnarson for an explanation. He states that not only is the magnetic field to blame, but heat as well:

“What is happening is that the magnetic field is truly affecting the drone. The drone’s compass gets confused, causing the drone to lose its GPS connection. This makes the drone switch to a so-called ATTI mode, meaning that the flight controller stops assisting the pilot and the drone starts drifting away.”

[ATTI Mode is short for Attitude Mode, where the drone maintains a certain altitude but not position. That means the drone will remain at the same height but drift around in the wind.]

Jón explains that when this happens, the drone keeps flying until its battery dies, and at that point, the drone attempts to land by gliding down to earth. This is what has occurred to drones that are found scattered here and there, be it at the eruption site in Geldingadalur valley in Fagradalsfjall mountain or elsewhere.

He states that most likely, heat from the eruption causes the plastic enclosure, to which the drone’s motor is attached, to melt. This, he believes, is why drones end up in the lava stream.

He recommends flying drones against the wind, in case the connection with them is cut. Then the drone will drift back to you, instead of away from you.

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