A UK drone pilot has been slapped with a hefty fine and a suspended prison sentence for having flown his UAV during a historic airshow event last July, during which it came dangerously close to a rare World War II-era Royal Air Force plane as it passed.
As DroneDJ reported at the time, defendant Mark Bagguley admitted guilt in the incident during his trial in January, and had been waiting sentencing since then. Though he risked receiving a maximum five-year prison term, Bagguley was handed a six-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay a total of $4,303 in fines and other penalties. During the proceedings, a letter was read voicing Bagguley’s apology to the pilot whose plane the drone endangered for “unnecessarily putting his and other people’s lives at risk that day.”
Read more: UK drone pilot who buzzed WWII plane during airshow pleads guilty
The incident occurred during the annual Buxton Carnival in Derbyshire last summer. Bagguley says he sent his drone up thinking he’d have time to capture images and land it before the historic Hurricane planes performed their fly-by. Used in the Battle of Britain Memorial and other WWII aerial battles, the 12 surviving craft are considered historic treasures.
In addition to the potentially serious damage or destruction the drone could have inflicted on the plane, police reminded the judge during the sentencing hearing that up to 20,000 people on the ground below would have also been endangered in the event of a collision.
Given the total ban on unauthorized flights in the area – and notices of that prohibition circulated by regulators– there were no excuses Bagguley could make for his illicit outing, and he didn’t try to make any.
Complicating his defense further, meanwhile, was the fact that his UAV was flown beyond visible line of sight as he tried to rush a few aerial shots before the flypast. It was only as the Hurricanes appeared, and he rushed to get it down, that the drone came close to one of the plane’s wings.
Ironically, as flagrant as the violation was, Bagguley nearly got away with it without anyone being the wiser.
No one on the ground noticed the Hurricane pass near the drone in real time, and the pilot of the plane apparently didn’t see the UAV or failed to report it. The presence of the craft was only detected when a spectator reviewed photos taken of the event from below, and blew up a few images when he thought he noticed a near bird-strike.
When the object was identified as a drone, the photographer took the photo to aviation authorities, who urged they be handed over to the police. Law enforcement officials then began scouring social media accounts for any aerial images taken on the same day, which eventually led them to Bagguley. Cross-referencing log data on his drone confirmed it had been in the same space as the plane as it flew by with the other Hurricanes.
Read: Bournemouth police pocket seven drones in banned airshow space
While the judge sparred Bagguley a prison jolt for putting the plane, pilot, and spectators at risk with his illegal and outrageous drone flight, he was less lenient with his tongue-lashing during sentencing.
“It was mind-blowingly reckless, particularly in the case of an intelligent, middle-aged man,” magistrate Jonathan Bennett said. “He is no youngster messing about with a new toy.”