Found Camera
Photos from the camera, found after four years at sea in the Monterey Bay.

2011-07-25 *** NEWS! ***
See Stephanie and myself interviewed on Inside Edition tonight (July 25, 2011.) Check for the channel and time in your area. Also, read an account of events and a few pictures there too.

*** Good News! ***
The owner of the camera has been found and contacted! Her name is Stephanie, and she's the girl receiving the "bunny ears" in the third to last photo from the end.

Many of you have asked for more details on how the owner of the camera was found. So here's an interview with Amy Freeborn from The Freeborn Times ( that should answer most of your questions:

Amy Freeborn - Is beach-combing a common past time for you? And if so, have any of your other finds compared to the camera discovery?

Peter G - Not really. We'd had two days of intense storms in late March, and my kids always like to see how all the water added to the local creek has re-cut the beach. This time we were treated to tons of debris on the beach, and while my daughter was building sand-castles, dad was just wandering around looking at the stuff under his feet. :)

As far as finding other treasures, my desire has always been to find an intact sand dollar... all of my neighbors seem to have found them, but I never have. So if the kids are down at the beach boogie boarding or digging in the sand, the most I'm looking for is a whole sand-dollar near the surf line.

AF - When you saw the SD card, what chance did you think you had in actually salvaging the images?

PG - I didn't really think much about it. I thought it would be a fun process to see if the pictures could be recovered. My Dutch grandfather always used to say (roughly translated) "You have 'No', you can always try for 'Yes'." In other words, you've got nothing to lose by trying. So I took it home and tried. Luckily, I was successful.

AF - Do you have any ‘technical’ training, in terms of your ability to take apart and put back together the SD card, or was it just an amateur trial and error attempt?

PG - My dad was always a tinkerer, and I seem to have inherited that gene. In direct answer to you question though, I have a degree in Computer Science Mathematics (Software), but I took electronics courses for all my free electives. I've helped friends build robots and other contraptions in my free time over the years, and like to geek out and build interesting projects whenever I can. So there is definitely some useful technical background there. That being said, I've never attempted to open an SD card before this though. So I had no idea what was inside, and if doing so would break something.

AF - When you were able to view the images, what were your first feelings and thoughts?

PG - Well, before viewing the images I had to first get the card out of its holder and get it readable. It was corroded so badly that I couldn't get the thing out just by pulling. Once I had cut the holder back a bit it came out. The contacts were filthy with corrosion and green slime and it took about a half hour of diligent cleaning before I was willing to stick the thing into my computer. My thoughts at this time were simply focused on the technical issues at hand.

Of course, when I stuck it into the computer, it wouldn't read it. So the technical side took over again, and my grandfather's advice echoed in my head, and decided to split the card open with an hobby knife and see what was inside. From the photo in the Flickr stream, you can see there wasn't much inside at all. I was quite surprised how little in fact. But opening it did reveal more slime and corrosion between the contacts. I gently cleaned it off with some rubbing alcohol and did a bit of scraping with a toothpick.

Then I snapped the pieces back together, stuck it back in the computer, and lo and behold-- the card appeared on my desktop and was readable. At that point the experience when from technological to emotional. I was excited that these lost photos were viewable, and immediately started to wonder about the people in the pictures.

AF - And has it changed your view at all on modern/digital technology, given that it survived so long in the ocean?

PG - Well, it has given me an appreciation of how durable SD cards are. Remember, the only bit I found of the camera was an internal plastic frame, and the circuit board with the SD card on it. The outer shell of the camera was gone. The main circuit board was gone. The cameral lens and sensor was gone. And on top of that, the card survived four years in salty water that completely destroyed the slot that held it. Clearly, a film based camera wouldn't have fared as well. So the whole move to digital photography definitely has made taking, preserving and recovering pictures more accessible to the average person.

AF - Before the owner came forward, did you have any thoughts in mind as to the tale behind the images on the camera, and its loss?

PG - The last picture in the camera was a picture of a sea-lion taken from what looked to be the Santa Cruz wharf. So I had some inkling of how the camera may have ended up in the ocean. The other pictures were fairly typical for a camera: family pictures that any one of us would take on vacation somewhere. So aside from the specific details of who the family was, the story the photos told was fairly obvious: a typical family vacation in the Santa Cruz area. The interesting wrinkles that later came out were that the pictures had been lost for four years, the owner came from Texas, and that she had never seen the pictures because the camera was lost before they went home again.

AF - When was your story first made public (was the June 19 Mercury News story the first publicity)?

PG - The story first ran in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. I first laid out the basics of the story in an E-Mail roughly a month ago. The the Sentinel reporter had a chance to come by Tuesday of last week (June 14) to interview me. The Sentinel photographer took my picture the following Friday. And I first became aware of the story in print this Monday (the 20th), when a co-worker sent a photo of my picture on the front page of a copy of the Sentinel in a newspaper dispenser box. It turns out that the Mercury News is a sister publication of the Sentinel, so that's how the story appeared there almost simultaneously. Everything after I think just spread from those two sources like wild-fire.

AF - How much feedback have you had to the Flickr account and how many messages have you received to your email?

PG - I think to date the Flickr set has had somewhere in excess of 75,000 views. Pretty amazing for two days since the story first ran in the Sentinel. I think there was a small core of 5 or 10 commenters on the Flickr set that sort of ran with the photos I published and became their own amateur investigative journalists. A few people were able to look up a name and address from a license plate in one of the photos. Another found the phone number for the name/address, but found it was disconnected. Inside Edition ran with the address and somehow found a current phone number and was able to contact the family in Texas. It was basically a fairly small group of people that took a strong interest in the story and each contributed a bit to solving the puzzle. My thanks goes out to all of them, and also an apology -- to preserve some semblance of privacy for the camera owner, I took down the pictures with the license plates, and in the process all their comments with addresses and phone numbers got removed as well. Without their help, I would have never found the owner, and I'm a bit sorry that their contributions were lost to the public, but it was necessary.

AF - And what has the tone/general consensus of those messages/feedback been?

PG - Like I said, a core set of commenters were intensely interested in helping to solve the mystery. Other comments were humorous, and some were simply supportive that I was trying to get the card back to the owners.

AF - How many days did it take for the owner to come forward after the story first went public, and did she say how she first heard about the whole story?

PG - It was less than two complete days before the owner was found. Again, part of the puzzle was the finding of the address and possible name with one of the car license plates. Then Inside Edition called me, took the address from the Flickr stream, and did some other magic that put them in touch with the family in Texas by phone. At roughly the same time, one of the owner's cousins contacted me via E-Mail because she saw the story on a Bay Area news website. So there was roughly a week of background work to put the initial story together, and then around two days for it to go viral and for the crowd-sourced investigation to find the owner.

How the owner herself got word I don't know. I heard a couple of funny second hand anecdotes about it though. For example, the reporter from Inside Edition said that when she first spoke to the family in Texas, the woman on the other end of the line freaked out and hung up on her! Later when she had calmed down, she called back and confirmed from the pictures that it was their camera. Meanwhile, the cousin who had E-Mailed me also provided her phone number. I called her and we had a great 20 minute chat about the whole thing. She said her cousin who lost the camera was giddy about suddenly being famous, and was telling all her friends about it on Facebook.

AF - what was her reaction to the fact that her lost camera had been found four years later?

PG - I gather the whole family was pretty excited. Probably as much by all the attention it had received as actually getting the pictures back. The owner was 12 or 13 at the time she lost the camera, and the cousin I spoke to on the phone said she was really bummed about having dropped it. Remember, they haven't seen most of the lost pictures yet, only the ones I put up on the Flickr page. So their reaction to seeing the actual photos hasn't happened yet. We're sorting out the details right now about how to get the SD card back to them. Inside Edition would like to fly them out for a TV "reunion", which looks like it may actually happen. Once the card is back in her hands, we'll hopefully get a better sense of her reaction to the photos themselves.

AF - What are your views on the power of the internet, given your experience?

PG - The power of the internet is phenomenal for getting stories out there. You can see it with this story, but more importantly in the reporting from places like Egypt, Syria, and Libya. Although it's not an earth-shattering event, this story was able to resonate with people, and it got picked up around the world in only two days time. I mean, I've seen a Portuguese translation of the article from Brazil, I was on the phone this morning with a New York ABC affiliate, I've talked to Inside Edition, the article ran in a UK paper... it's wild how quickly and how far the story spread.

I must also admit that the way this story spread was really a stroke of luck. Actually, I guess, a few strokes of luck in a row... Luck in having found the camera at all. Luck that the guy who found it (me) was determined enough to try to get the photos off the card. Luck that it had been in the ocean for four years, which made the story interesting. Luck that a core group of Flickr commenters were inspired enough by the story that they did some investigative work that I didn't know how to do. And luck that the reporter and editorial staff at the Sentinel were inspired to make it a front page story. That drew a lot of other media attention, which greatly helped to get the word out. If you search the web for "lost camera" you'll find a lot of people that have lost or found cameras. So there's no lack of source material out there. But you combine that with the fact that the card has been lost at sea for four years, and a newspaper gets the word out, you have all the right ingredients for interest to spread.

AF - And how do you feel personally about the fact you were able to reunite this girl with her camera?

PG - I'm glad to get the card back to her. It's a story she'll be able to think back fondly about for the rest of her life. I know that when I go back through my own family photos, the pictures remind me of great stories about the times and places the pictures were taken. And that's not even for pictures that were lost at sea for four years! I hope the same will be be true for her, along with the follow-on story of all the media attention that surrounded it.
16 photos · 128,701 views