La Palma’s volcanic eruption, which saw lava sweep across the landscape has been high in the press in recent weeks, but recently some of the island’s smaller residents came to the forefront as teams got to work planning an unprecedented rescue mission. Using drones, they hoped to retrieve a group of dogs that had been stuck among slow-moving lava for several weeks. Having spied them from drones scanning the area, the dogs appeared to be in bad shape as they'd had little access to food since becoming trapped at the start of the month. While drones have never been permitted for use in saving people or animals in this way before, it was feared that without intervention the dogs would certainly die.
The Cumbre Vieja ("Old Summit") volcano first started releasing lava on September 19, 2021, in the quiet Cabeza de Vaca area, but within a few hours the spread of smoldering lava began to threaten multiple municipalities and so an evacuation order was declared. In late September, videos began circulating of a church being wiped out by lava flow in the town of Todoque, the same town in which the dogs became trapped. Reports from CBS News showed they were hiding out in two empty water tanks that were surrounded by molten lava.
When lava spreads across land like this, it’s not uncommon for pockets to appear in the flow creating safe islands where wildlife, domestic pets, or people may find themselves stuck. The plight of the dogs galvanized animal charity Leales.org to enlist the help of drones in early October to get food and water to the emaciated animals. Wondering if the technology could go one step further, they contacted Aerocameras to see if the dogs could be airlifted out like cargo using a larger model.
The exact number of dogs trapped on the spit of land wasn't entirely clear, with reports from news outlets ranging from four to six. According to a report from The Hill, the drone intended to retrieve them weighs 50 kilograms (110 pounds) and would need to fly each dog a distance of 450 meters (0.25 miles) in order to reach safe ground. This would have apparently given the drone operator just eight minutes to lure the frightened dogs into the drone’s net and complete the journey before they ran the risk of the battery dying mid-flight.
Fortunately, their savior would arrive in a rather less conspicuous fashion, as it appears a mystery team of rescue workers swept in while everyone was crunching numbers to save the day. The drone was flown out on Wednesday equipped with thermal cameras for finding the dogs, however, after searching the tanks in which they'd been hiding they found no dogs and what appeared to be human footprints.
Then, on Thursday a video was posted online showing a banner inside the tanks that read "Stay strong La Palma! The dogs are fine," signed "The A-Team". While you might question if The A-Team were really the masterminds behind the rescue attempt, may we present you with some pretty irrefutable evidence: the sign also included spray-painted "bullet holes" in an apparent tribute to the show's opening credits. Need we say more?
“We’ve seen the video and we’ve confirmed it’s real, like the footprints we found [on Wednesday],” said Jaime Pereira, the chief executive of Aerocamaras, reports the Guardian. “The main thing is that, one way or another, the dogs have got out.”
Faith in humanity restored.