Another month, another handful of drone operators taken into custody: this fresh batch includes operators who allegedly risked people’s lives by 1) crashing into sporting events and 2) buzzing near a helicopter belonging to the Los Angeles Police Department.
An LAPD helicopter had to take evasive action late last month to avoid a hobby drone that, ABC7 reports, flew within 50 feet of the chopper, endangering all onboard the helicopter and anybody on the ground below.
Police had been searching for a suspect in the Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles, near Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue, around midnight when the drone swooped in.
Capt. Al Lopez of LAPD Air Support told the news station that this was the first and “most egregious” time that a drone has come into LAPD helicopter airspace in such close proximity.
LAPD pilot Sgt. Jorge Gonzalez said that the dangers of hitting a helicopter aren’t just that the craft are so large; they also carry plentiful amounts of hazardous jet fuel:
It is very hazardous. It could kill everybody onboard the aircraft and anybody you hit on the ground. These aircrafts are just under 5,000 pounds and they can carry up to 143 gallons of jet fuel.
Police located the drone’s pilot in a pharmacy parking lot and took him into custody for allegedly interfering with police work.
Officers also confiscated his drone, which Petapixel identified as a DJI Inspire model.
Police haven’t released his identity, though news reports have identified the drone pilot as a “he.”
The man was questioned and released pending the results of an investigation.
Petapixel reports that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was notified about the incident and that authorities are studying the camera footage to try to ascertain whether the flyby was intentional.
If it was intentional, he could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
If that sounds overly harsh, bear in mind that a collision with a drone could result in fatalities, as the LAPD’s Gonzalez described.
As it is, you don’t need a heavy metal drone to bring down a helicopter: even “mere” bird strikes have crippled choppers and injured pilots, even causing fatalities.
Drone operators in the past two weeks have also crashed their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into sporting arenas – fortunately, without incurring injuries or fatalities.
As The Guardian reports, a 26-year-old teacher from New York was arrested for allegedly crashing a drone into an empty section of seats at the US Open tennis tournament.
Daniel Verley, a teacher at the Academy of Innovative Technology in Brooklyn, is facing charges of reckless endangerment and operating a drone in a New York City public park outside of a prescribed area.
The drone reportedly buzzed around the court in Louis Armstrong stadium, flying diagonally through the arena during the penultimate game of a match before crashing into the empty seats.
US Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier told The Guardian that no one was injured.
It’s only sheer luck that nobody was in those seats: the players had originally been scheduled to play on a much smaller court, but their match was moved after earlier matches in the Louis Armstrong court wrapped up early.
Player Flavia Pennetta, of Italy, said that nobody told the players what the commotion was about. In fact, she thought it was a bomb:
With everything going on in the world … I thought: ‘OK, it’s over.’ That’s how things happen.
In fact, many in the court were frightened as the drone crash-landed and broke into pieces.
As chance had it, Pennetta’s coach and physical therapist were sitting in the opposite end of the stadium and told her later that they were also frightened by the crash.
Yet another drone crashed last week, this time into the crowded stadium at the University of Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium, just ahead of the school’s season-opening football game.
USA Today reports that the drone pilot – 24-year-old Peyton Wilson, a University of Kentucky law student – was arrested and charged with wanton endangerment.
The second-degree charge carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail.
Kentucky campus police chief Joe Monroe said in a news conference that Wilson had also flown a drone over a soccer match last week.
Wilson’s drone reportedly hovered close by military skydivers parachuting into the packed stadium with American flags, forcing one of the skydivers to take evasive measures to avoid the UAV after it came within 20 feet of his parachute, as he told police after.
One thing in common
From the sounds of it, the drone operators in all three of these recent incidents have one thing in common: the habit of ignoring one of the most fundamental rules of responsible piloting UAVs.
Namely, never fly remote-control planes or quad copters above people.
Drones can have all manner of technical difficulties that could cause them to crash into people, other aircraft or the ground, be it wireless interference, bad batteries or operator error.
Footage of people skydiving, mountain biking, or wildfires might impress viewers, but getting that thrilling footage doesn’t even come close to being worth endangering people’s lives.
Drone operators who don’t respect that common-sense safety rule shouldn’t be surprised at local authorities trying to institute drone no-fly zones, as California recently tried to do – until its governor nixed the bill.
Likewise, cases like these add to the increasing level of public frustration and resulting lack of sympathy with UAV pilots whose expensive gadgets may feel the wrath of privacy-hungry vigilantes.
I’m thinking here of the Kentucky man who was charged with felony criminal mischief and wanton endangerment for shooting down a $1800 drone that was reportedly taking its maiden voyage over his backyard.
Telemetry showed that the operator was flying it well above his neighbor’s personal property.
But evidence exonerating drone operators from negligence is growing increasingly muffled in the court of public opinion, in no small part because it’s being drowned out by the noise from drones being flown recklessly over people’s property and heads.
If you’re a responsible drone operator who keeps your device away from crowds, thank you for being a good role model.
Let’s hope that less responsible operators learn from your example before they hurt – or even kill – somebody.
Image of drone being flown courtesy of Shutterstock.com
14 comments on “Drones buzz around LAPD chopper, crash into US Open and football stadiums”
Drones should be illegal. They are dangerous to the public. Amazon wanted to use drones to deliver packages to customers. That’s ridiculous. Anyone who uses a drone should wake up and realize that they could kill either themselves or others!
I think most drone operators try not to hurt people. Like weapons, drones could be an asset or liability. With technology the way it’s going, if the government can spy on you from obit how hi-tech does the optics or electronics have to be be able to identify people and property from less than the proposed ceiling of 1000 ft. Not too… I won’t even mention the fact of a perfect way to get a bomb into some place, or use it like a guide missile. I’ve never heard of a legal term like “well above his neighbor’s personal property” meaning absolutely nothing to me.. Like anything else there are a certain percentage of the population that has no common sense what so ever. What we all need to understand is that the drone is an inanimate object (someone has to tell it what to do), so don’t blame the drone! I guess these types of operators are just like some legislators…
I completely agree.
For those who disagree, try replacing the word “drone” with (for example) “baseball bat”, “metal pipe”, “vehicle”, or “RC car”.
When an incident involving one of the replacement words/phrases appears in the news, we generally don’t blame the inanimate object (unless there was some sort of manufacturing defect involved), but the person that was using it.
The same goes for drones (be they planes, quad-copters, or any other variety): If the person using it is not doing so Responsibly, then the blame for any injuries and/or damage should lie squarely with that person, and not the drone itself.
Actually drones can and do fly themselves in many cases – the good ones use their GPS to enforce no-fly zones around airports for example, and enable safe landing, return-to-launch in the event of a loss of control signal and various other safety and convenience features.
Clearly what drones need is live updating of no-fly zones so that in an emergency one can be set in place and all drones in the area will land straight away and not be launchable. It would not be realistic to expect a fast-moving vehicle like a helicopter to carry a portable no-fly zone and expect instant compliance but the principle is certainly more worth investigating than strange and complex licensing schemes for drones and owners. I tend to trust the technology in these devices more than some random stranger who has just splashed cash on a new “toy” without any training or knowledge.
Of course it will still be possible to build your own drone – you can also build your own car or even plane if you try hard enough – and that might be lacking in the controls I have suggested above but any off the shelf control system can and should have such systems built in securely enough that bypassing them is not really worth the effort.
Far too many stories like this! I wonder if there might be a personality type that is drawn to flying drones…
EG: this guy in Kentucky: a 24 year old LAW STUDENT who crashed a drone twice! Once “into the crowded stadium at the University of Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium, just ahead of the school’s season-opening football game” and then again the campus police chief Joe Monroe said in a news conference that “Wilson had also flown a drone over a soccer match last week” hovering by military skydivers.
So a law student does this TWICE. Not a kid or uneducated person.
We DO need laws protecting people from people like this who have no regard for others’ safety or privacy. (Why our governor nixed this bill is beyond me)
And lawn mowers or generators aren’t dangerous until you use them where and when you shouldn’t and spark huge fires that take out thousands of acres. A UAV is just a tool. It can be used well and good results come, or it can be used recklessly and the operator should absolutely be prosecuted for endangering others.
This journalist as lined. Regarding the Kentucky incident where the criminal shot down the UAV, the telemetry showed it operating OUTSIDE the criminal’s property. Did you even bother to look at the telemetry or did you just parrot some other statement you had seen or did you just guess?
Hi, yes we did look at the telemetry. The drone did fly over his property but at well over 200 feet above the ground, as mentioned in the original article we wrote and as Lisa writes in this article – “Telemetry showed that the operator was flying it well above his neighbor’s personal property.”
The people who do fly then responsibly, have one personality type… The obliviots, another. People can drive cars responsibly, or not. The same for drones, or other remote control stuff….. Go after the “perps”.
But, cars, guns, and other things, are licensed, and are required to have serial numbers. We need to do the same with drones. And also with modern, un-tethered, long range, radio control aircraft. Whether we want to license the operators, as well as the toys, I do not know.
Oh, so someone can build their own, not have and S/N or license, and fly it? Yes, they can. Laws cannot stop that. You will always have scoff-laws. But MOST people do listen to laws. Certainly, manufacturers and sellers will! Especially if there are fines for not doing things properly!
And for scoff laws? Simple. Make the fines Draconian. Build and fly a DIY un-registered drone? The fine is $100,000. And your credit is good with us. You can pay it off over 10 years, at 2% greater than the current bank rate of interest. Still cannot pay? Well, “You’re in the Army now…. You’re not behind….” Will they be hard to find? Sure. But obliviots always screw up. And, if one splits the fine, giving a reward for “…definite information leading to a conviction of…” you will find plenty of takers. What should the reward be? Oh, say 30% split amongst the “contributors of useful information”.
Is this a perfect solution? No. But it is a start.
And the “rules” for flying need to be made crystal clear, well publicized, and in depth enough to be useful. We can do that. We just have to want to.
Will any “implementations” be permanent and perfect, the first time around? No. No such rules ever have been, or ever will be.
I think you have a good idea to solve this problem.
As far as I am concerned the Civilian Populace of the world should not be granted the rights or permission or privilege of using drones. These devices should be used by US Military, First Responders, and anyone who has a need to use to perform official duties and investigations of criminal activity. Everyone who currently has them should turn them in to local law enforcement for destruction.
Anyone above who uses the word replacement analysis is naive. Imagine an accident seeker flying a drone into the middle of a busy intersection from afar with the sole intention of causing a major accident, so they could youtube the carnage and become popular. The drone is removed from the scene of the accident and the uploader removes all metadata from the video prior to uploading to become anonymous as to avoid law suits by federal, state, and local law enforcement bodies of the US and other nations. Who would be held liable for the accident, and who would pay for potential loss of life? Apply that scenario to your loved ones, and now you are dealing with a sudden loss of life to your child and wife and dealing with 10’s of thousands of dollars in medical and funeral costs, because the accident scene investigators failed to find anyone at fault and as such prevented insurance companies from paying out money to help cover the costs. On top of that you are now receiving treatment for psychological issues, and again paying for this out of your own pocket.
No one in their right mind should ever want a drone, I am a techie and I do not want to own one. If I was going to fly something like it, then I would pick up model air plane flying via remote control and take it to places where I am allowed to such as the middle of BFE where no one but me may get hurt by it. At least with a bat or other type weapon someone may catch you in the act of malicious behavior and the cops would have a good idea of who to arrest. With a drone that possibility goes out of the window and now you have anarchy.
Can we just be very clear that battery-operated civilian drones do not “explode” so what the tennis players and audience heard was a crash. I’m sure it was startling but it wasn’t an explosion (unless Michael Bay was filming it).
Helicopters can and do crash and/or explode of course and from trivial things like bird strikes (or drone strikes of course). Perhaps it’s time these dangerous and vulnerable vehicles were banned or their safety was properly investigated and perhaps some wire mesh positioned over the engine intakes and around the rotors (like the cages on the fan blades for swamp boats). And, until they are made safe, they should be banned from flying over populated areas unless those areas are certified to be free of birds.
I removed the word “explosion.” I think “crash-landed” is perfectly adequate 🙂
banning air travel would be great. So much more quiet. Nice week long boat rides overseas. Will never happen till the great EMP blast, but I can wait.