Julian Bustos wanted “to make every minute count” when he offered to use his personal drone to help find Jason Blake Mabee, an Ellicott City resident who had been missing for more than five days.
Bustos, 36, of Severn, did just that.
It only took him a matter of minutes to find Mabee, 44, lying down in a wooded area near the intersection of Presbyterian Circle and Route 108 in Columbia.
After seeing a Facebook post asking for anyone locally with a drone to help find Mabee, Bustos immediately responded and went to charge his drone’s batteries.
“I only have enough batteries for about 90-100 minutes of flight, [I] want to make every minute count,” Bustos wrote on the volunteer search party’s Facebook page on July 27.
Mabee had been last seen on foot around 3 a.m. July 22 in the area of College Avenue in Ellicott City without his cellphone or wallet, Howard County police previously said. He had been wearing a gray T-shirt, black athletic shorts and black socks with no shoes.
Police spent the week checking local parks and areas that Mabee is known to frequent, as well as hospitals and shelters. On July 27, a volunteer search party, with the assistance of police, was prepared to search from sunrise to sunset.
Bustos arrived at the meeting location — Columbia Academy: Thunder Hill Preschool’s parking lot off of Route 108 in Columbia — around noon and was given a map of where to go. Another man had gone north with his drone, so Bustos went south.
Bustos looked at his drone’s map and saw there was a river and a couple of ponds in his search area. He thought to maneuver his drone over near the water, thinking that “someone in the heat, trying to survive would go close to water.”
He started his search on the top of the river and, soon after, found someone.
In “less than three minutes of drone flight, I saw a person lying on his back,” Bustos said.
Unable to get closer than 100 feet because of power lines, Bustos made the assumption it was Mabee because the clothes the man was wearing matched the police description. He called 911 and waited, with the drone hovering over Mabee.
“I was hovering my drone for about 20 minutes over Jason, keeping an eye on him the whole time,” Bustos said. “He didn’t move at all. I was thinking the worst — he looked lifeless.”
Bustos had only a few minutes of battery left as the first police unit arrived.
“God puts you in the right place at the right moment,” he said.
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When found just after 12:30 p.m., Mabee was conscious but critically injured, potentially from an accidental fall, police said. He was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore with life-threatening injuries. He has since been listed in fair condition.
In a provided statement, Mabee’s family “extends their most sincere gratitude to the Howard County Police Department, as well as their family, friends and neighbors — all the support and resources were instrumental in helping locate Jason. They thank everyone for the prayers and well wishes and ask for privacy as they continue their focus of supporting his healing.”
A workgroup formed in May by Howard police “is still evaluating the possible use of drone technology for use in cases much like this,” Lori Boone, a police spokeswoman, said in an email.
As more people hail him a hero, Bustos said, “I don’t feel like a hero. I didn’t do anything extraordinary to find Jason.”
Bustos, who owns Icebreakers Cafe inside The Gardens Ice House hockey rink in Laurel, normally uses his drone for capturing landscape videos.