York family gets last laugh at beach-spying drone


Don't swim in the ocean during prime shark-feeding times. Wear sunscreen. Swim parallel to the shore to escape a rip current.

New in 2015 to the list of crucial beach-going advice: Beware the drones.

A York County family spent much of their Ocean City, New Jersey, vacation tracking the movements of a camera-equipped drone operated by an anonymous human a little too interested in women's swimsuit fashion.

But this story has a happy ending. That drone — the one that got uncomfortably close to Kate Leik and fellow sunbathers last week — won't be creeping around any more beaches.

The remote-controlled aircraft, a DJI Phantom 2 model, was a curiosity at first. Leik said she and others even waved when it first buzzed around their beach towels.

Then things got weird.

"It zoomed in on the group I was sitting with," Leik said. "I wasn't quite sure how I felt about it."

After a while, she knew. It was creepy.

That went on for a few days. Then, on the morning of July 7, Leik watched as the craft hovered above the ocean.

She heard someone ask: "What happens if it runs out of power?"

Minutes later, the drone fell beneath the surface of the water and unceremoniously disappeared.

Sunbathers waited hours, expecting the drone's somewhat embarrassed owner to eventually emerge from beneath whichever beach umbrella he'd been hiding under.

"And nobody ever came," she said.

Five days later, her son stepped on something buried in the sand. Before digging it out, 13-year-old Dylan Leik reported some unexpected news to his mom: "I think I found the drone."

Sure enough, the York Suburban eighth-grader had located the downed aircraft, minus its propellers. Dylan spent the rest of the day cleaning sand from its nooks and crannies.

The teenager said he's also done some research, and he's more than a little amused that someone let their $700 drone fall into the ocean.

Saltwater appears to have ruined the machine, his dad, Josh Leik, said. (Although it makes a pretty cool decoration for Dylan's bedroom.)

But the its memory card is working just fine. Back home in Spring Garden Township, the family is working to retrieve about 70 photos and 12 videos.

"Some of them are just incredible pictures of that part of the island," Josh Leik said. "Some of the pictures you could see on a postcard."

But then there's the other photos, the ones the subjects "probably would not really appreciate," Josh Leik said.

In a few cases, including a series of photos focused on a group of teenage girls, the photos are just a little too voyeuristic, Kate Leik said.

"I understand getting some really cool aerial photography of the houses and the beach," Josh Leik said. "But why in the world would they want close-up video of people on the beach? I think there's probably only one answer to that."

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.