Northwest Colorado drone pilots didn’t get outcome they wanted, but efforts helped find missing man
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Drone pilot Movses Mikaelyan knew what he had to do after friends alerted him to a plea for help from relatives of 25-year-old Kyle Baglo, who went missing while traveling from Oak Creek to Steamboat Springs on Dec. 29, 2019.
“We are a tight community,” Mikaelyan said. “We are like a big family. When one of us is missing somewhere in the snow, for me, there was no question, there was no question about what I should do.”
“I don’t think there’s anything special about me choosing to go out there and help, or doing it without asking for anything, because somebody was missing, and the family had already lost so much,” Mikaelyan said. “I think it is a very normal and expected thing for somebody to do.”
Baglo had already been missing for two days when Mikaelyan’s search began Jan. 1. The next day another pilot, James David Gabriel, and his twin brother Raymond joined the search for the Oak Creek man. And on Jan. 2, Baglo’s car and his body were found 130 feet off the road on the Steamboat side of the Oak Creek Canyon thanks to the drone pilots’ efforts.
“I thought they did a great job because without their help, I don’t think I would have found him,” said Page Reed, Baglo’s girlfriend. “I’m really thankful that they found him. … Once it got to like day three, I was already panicked that I wasn’t going find him because of snow and the conditions.”
Despite heavy snow, Mikaelyan began his search on Jan. 1 by heading to a location near Colorado Highway 131 and U.S. Highway 40 where Baglo’s cell phone had been pinged.
“I searched the area, and it was obvious that he wasn’t there,” Mikaelyan said. “I flew there as much as I could. I have batteries for like an hour.”
James David joined Mikaelyan at the location the next morning, and the two used their drones to scour the area.
“So we hit the whole area with no luck,” James David said.
That afternoon Mikaelyan used his lunch break to start searching from Oak Creek back toward Steamboat. A little while later, James David and Raymond started driving from Steamboat toward Oak Creek to begin their own search.
Mikaelyan, who owns five drones and has more than 150 hours in the air, used his DJI Mavic 2 Zoom drone for the search, and James David, who operates a production company and often flies drones outside of work, piloted his DJI Inspire drone. Raymond was also out looking as the three followed Baglo’s projected path from Oak Creek to Steamboat.
“James drove in his car, and I drove in mine,” Raymond said. “He would watch the left side of the road all the way to Oak Creek, and I watched the right side for any anomalies or anything out of place. I got out of my car probably 10 or 15 times.”
As they made their way to Oak Creek, James David and Raymond noticed an area where they believed a car could have gone off the road, but after exiting their cars and looking over the edge, they couldn’t see anything.
A few miles down the road Mikaelyan had used two of his three batteries and only had about 10 minutes of battery life left. But instead of giving up, he started looking for places where a car could have run off the road without being noticed, and he came across the same spot that the Gabriels had noticed earlier.
“I pulled over there, got out of my car and got my drone in the air,” Mikaelyan said. “I flew to the area that I had noticed when I was driving, and I saw the vehicle. It took about two minutes, and I saw the car.”
Baglo’s Navy Blue 1997 Honda CRV was covered in snow and located 130 feet down a steep embankment between mile markers 56 and 57 on Colo. 131 about 15 miles south of Steamboat. The 25-year-old was found dead in his vehicle, and his body was recovered by first responders.
It wasn’t the outcome Mikaelyan wanted, but he hopes the effort taken to find the missing man sets an example for others.
“It’s not about what you have or what you’re going to bring. It’s more about your intention and just putting it out there, and you can become a part of something useful,” Mikaelyan said. “I would like the message to be that if you feel it in your heart, if you have this gut feeling that you should go out there, that you could help, just give it a try and see what happens.”
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Mike Cochran is grateful.