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It was a sleepless last night in Chitral. The helicopter was down. It was out there somewhere where anyone could find it. And then what would be the reckoning? What would be made of a small helicopter fitted with a camera? In Pakistan? Plenty. Earlier that day I had taken it out to capture some aerial footage of the breathtaking mountain vistas of the Chitral Valley with our local host and a policeman in tow. The controlled flight plan panning over a bridge spanning the river that leads to the village of Ayun vanished in the thin air as did my helicopter. Heavy gusts of wind we could not feel in the river valley took it up and away out of my control. My wife, our hosts and the policeman set out on foot through corn fields and canals in the direction we last saw it. I hoped as we entered the village of Bruz that everyone would have seen it land in a farmer’s animal pen, filthy but found. The river made a curve around the patch of farmland where the chopper disappeared, forcing us to add a crash landing in the river to the list of possible fates. Our hosts guessed the villagers, seeing us coming with a policeman in tow, would point to the crashed thing and not touch it, for fear of being associated with what basically looked like a spying tool. That was the best-case scenario, which was quickly fading along with the afternoon sun. Standing in the dark, cold and defeated, we passed our cell phone numbers to local merchants figuring if they saw the kids using some strange looking plastic thing as a cricket ball they would at least call us first.

That night, I dared not open my eyes to see if my wife was sleeping. I had turned our relaxing weekend get-away, full of mountain hikes and visits with the colorful Kalash people, into a possible news event that she might have to write about as a first person piece. And instead of lounging in a chair reading her book, she’d spent the afternoon with me tromping through cornfields. As the sun illuminated the peaks I saw no gathering hordes on the horizon and figured if I did not want my own wife calling me for a quote in the coming weeks asking me why I thought it was a good idea to fly a remote controlled helicopter in Pakistan for a story about a drone villagers thought they found then I needed to find this thing before we flew back to Islamabad. To make the flight, we had a 10:30 a.m. cutoff.

That is how we came to spend the last morning of our relaxing weekend getaway doing search patterns in the cornfields of Bruz. Four boys, Wasim Akram, Ubaid Ur Rehman, Farid Ur Rehman and Mohamed Suheeb Akram quickly emerged eager to help us find what we were looking for so we could get out of their cornfields. We dispatched the boys to the farmhouses to ask if anyone had seen a small helicopter crash in their fields. By 9:30 a.m. we had followed the eyewitness accounts past the farm houses, past the tree lines and beyond the dry river bed. It dawned on us that the villagers might tell us anything just to make us go away. With a last hopeless scan of the ground around us we called the driver to take us home. The four boys who had helped us wandered off disappointed to play a game of cricket at their favorite open field next to the raging river. At 10:29 a.m., that is when we heard it. The excited yells of the four boys. They had found it at the edge of their cricket field _ 20 feet from where the cliff dropped off to the river. Shouts, hugs and rewards were passed around. International incident diverted, marriage saved, weekend officially an adventure not a news story.


September 22, 2013; Bruz, Pakistan: Our police escort, Constable Attiq Ur Rehman, left, and the heroes of the day, from left to right, Farid Ur Rehman, Mohamed Suheeb Akram, Ubaid Ur Rehman and Wasim Akram return my RC helicopter and camera after they found if for me when they went to play a game of cricket. Photo by Rebecca Santana 

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