If you’re going to hit something with your drone, you don’t want it to be a police helicopter. But that’s what allegedly happened in Los Angeles two months ago — and charges were laid today. That’s the word from the U.S. attorney’s office, which has now charged a Hollywood man with one count of unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.
Ask any pilot, and they’ll tell you: Many of the rules that govern airspace and the safe operation of a manned aircraft came about because of accidents. From intricate checklists to Air Traffic Control to various designations of airspace, these rules exist to keep people safe. And the same goes for the rules put in place for drones by the Federal Aviation Administration. There are very good reasons why you shouldn’t fly your drone in controlled airspace without the right certification and permissions. All of that seems to have been allegedly ignored in this case in Los Angeles.
So what happened?
Here’s what we know, based on a story by the Associated Press and posted to the KTLA website.
On September 18, police were called to a burglary call at a pharmacy in Hollywood. The police on the ground requested a helicopter to come to assist. It was doing precisely that when the pilot saw a drone at the last second. The pilot tried to avoid the UAV but was unsuccessful. The drone collided and caused damage.
According to the AP story, the chopper’s noise, bottom cowlings, and antenna were damaged. Had the drone struck the main rotor, states the complaint, it could have brought the helicopter down. Debris from the drone struck and damaged a car when it came to earth.
A 22-year-old man named Andrew Rene Hernandez has been charged. He was found by authorities based on information contained on the memory card that was in the wrecked drone. The photo below was later released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California; it appears possible that Hernandez took this image with a drone; his fingers are on the button for taking an image.
He appeared in court today, but it’s unclear what plea was entered. It’s also unknown what type of drone was involved in the incident – though based on this photo it appears to be a remote for a Mavic Pro. But the brand of the drone is irrelevant; irresponsible actions by pilots are not the fault of manufacturers unless there was a flyaway. That’s something exceedingly rare with a DJI product these days.
Flying a drone, as you know, comes with certain responsibilities. It’s on pilots to fully understand airspace regulations, as well as any local regulations, that govern the use of drones. It’s also important that pilots realize these machines are capable of causing a serious incident.
If you have any doubts, keep your drone grounded until you’ve had a good read through some of the information provided by the FAA.
Fly often, we like to say. But fly safely.