Drone operators were preparing to launch a daring rescue mission to carry several dogs out of a volcano’s lava zone when they realized something had changed: All of the dogs were already gone.
It was apparently the work of a group of mysterious rescuers who left a spray-painted banner reading, “The dogs are fine.” The message was signed “A Team.”
The dogs’ plight has made headlines for weeks after emergency teams realized the animals had been stranded by lava from a volcano’s prolonged eruption on the island of La Palma, Spain.
Drones have dropped food and water for the animals as officials considered ways to rescue them. It was deemed too risky to attempt by foot; helicopters were ruled out due to ash and pyroclastic rocks in the air.
Animal advocacy group Leales then asked the drone company Aerocamaras to use large cargo drones to fetch the dogs, trapping them in nets and flying them to safety. That plan moved ahead this week as special flight permits were approved.
But then the animal rescue story turned into a dog-gone mystery.
“This morning we have made reconnaissance flights of the area where the dogs were, but at the moment we have not obtained any trace,” drone company Aerocamaras said Wednesday via Twitter.
Leales said Thursday that “anonymous animalists” seem to have entered the area and rescued the dogs, citing a video it had received by email as well as footprints that were detected by Aerocamaras’ drones.
The animal group posted a video to YouTube showing a banner on a wall where one of the dogs was located. The footage opens with the famous opening lines of the 1980s TV show The A Team, describing (in Spanish, in this case) a band of commandos who became soldiers of fortune after being accused of a crime they didn’t commit.
Footage in the anonymous video was shot by a drone. Leales said it suspects that the unknown rescuers might have used a drone’s thermal imaging to determine a relatively “cold” path through the lava field.
Leales said the video arrived via a brief email that was also signed by the A Team. The message thanked the group for its work and concluded with the hashtag many locals in La Palma have embraced: #masfuertesqueelvolcan — stronger than the volcano.
Aerocamaras said that its drone flights Wednesday had shown the banner where one of the dogs had been, but because the wind had seemingly flipped the large sheet over, the message wasn’t visible at first sight.
While it seems that the dogs have been carried to safety, Leales said it would like to know who the rescuers are and for them to share proof that the dogs — some of which had been emaciated by their ordeal — are in good condition.