Drones scout out fugitive found living in cave after 17 years on the run in China

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By Yuliya Talmazan and Dawn Liu  with NBC News World News
Image: Song Jiang, a Chinese fugitive, has been arrested after 17 years on
Song Jiang, a Chinese fugitive, has been arrested after 17 years on the run.   -   Copyright  Yongshan Police

Police in China have used a drone to track down and arrest a convicted people trafficker who had been on the run for 17 years.

Yongshan police said in a statement on Chinese messenger app WeChat on Friday that multiple attempts to recapture Song Jiang, 63, had failed. They received clues to his whereabouts earlier this month, which led them to the mountains behind his hometown in Yunnan province, southern China.

Teams went out searching for Song in what police describe as complex terrain and dense vegetation, but couldn't find any trace of him, so they requested drones from the local police authority to look for a possible hideout from above.

Yongshan Police
A blue-colored steel tile above a cave where Song Jiang, a Chinese fugitive, has been arrested after 17 years on the run.Yongshan Police

Shortly after, a drone spotted a blue steel roof on a steep cliff. It also detected household garbage outside what police described as a cave.

When search teams moved in earlier in September, they found "an unkempt old man" in front of the cave and identified him as the elusive Song, who was jailed for trafficking women and children, but escaped from prison in 2002.

Police said Song had been living in a cave measuring less than 21 square feet in size — too small for an average person to stand up in.

Pictures from inside the cave released by police showed blackened cooking pots that appear to have been used to make food over an open fire and what looks like layers of improvised bedding on the cave's floor.

Yongshan Police
Police said the fugitive had been living in seclusion in a stone cave when he was arrested by police.Yongshan Police

Investigators said the fugitive was living in seclusion for a while and had trouble communicating with the officers after not speaking to anyone for a long time.

They said Song has not taken a bath or done laundry in "a long time," and his lifestyle has "devastated" his body. He also cut his own hair, used plastic bottles to get drinking water from a mountain valley and gathered dry tree branches to make fire for cooking.

Song is being sent back to jail, police said.