FBI agents on Thursday, Nov. 19, arrested a Hollywood man on the federal charge of recklessly operating a drone, which collided with a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter in September.
The Sept. 18 early morning incident is believed to be the first criminal case in the nation that alleges the unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft, according to a news release.
Authorities said drone camera footage showed that Andrew Rene Hernandez, 22, flew the drone. He was charged with one count of unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft, a Department of Justice news release said.
The drone damaged the LAPD aircraft and the pilot was forced to make an emergency landing, department officials said. The drone then fell from the sky, damaging a vehicle.
According to the complaint, just after midnight Sept. 18, police officers were responding to a burglary call at a Hollywood pharmacy and needed air support. As the helicopter approached, the pilot saw the drone and tried to evade it, but it crashed into the helicopter, forcing an emergency landing at a nearby heliport.
Officials reported damage to the helicopter’s nose, antenna and bottom engine covers. The collision could have been deadly, officials said.
“If the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down,” according to the complaint.
Hernandez admitted to flying the drone — controlled by a device attached to his smartphone — to “see what was going on,” according to the department.
There is no indication that Hernandez, who lives nearby, was involved in the pharmacy burglary, according to Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Authorities are concerned about illegal drone activity, he said.
“This case resulted from a serious incident that could have ended very badly as a result of the reckless actions of the drone operator,” Mrozek said.
Hernandez’s arrest comes during the Federal Aviation Administration’s National Drone Safety Awareness Week, an annual campaign promoting drone operation safety.
“It’s critical for all drone operators to understand that as soon as they start flying outside, they are pilots with the responsibility to operate safely, just like pilots of manned aircraft,” the FAA stated in a tweet. “While our preference is to educate, we don’t hesitate to take strong enforcement action when warranted.”
Those using drones unsafely can face fines of up to $1,501 per violation.
Hernandez’s misdemeanor offense carries a sentence of up to one year in federal prison, the release states.
Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment