By Chris Stonor
America is facing a probable “first US criminal prosecution” alleging the unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft by a member of the public, reports news.sky.com. 22 year-old Andrew Rene Hernandez has been arrested by FBI special agents in Los Angeles on charges of recklessly flying a drone that crashed into a police helicopter.
The pilot of the Los Angeles police department helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing after being struck by the drone over Hollywood in September. Officers had been responding to reports of a burglary at a pharmacy in the early hours of the morning when they requested air support.
As the helicopter approached the scene, the pilot spotted the drone and tried unsuccessfully to take evasive action. The craft damaged the chopper’s nose, antenna and cowling (the covering of the engine) in the impact.
According to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court, “If the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down.”
Officers found parts of the drone on the ground, along with a vehicle damaged by the debris and identified Hernandez by reviewing the craft’s camera and memory card. Hernandez told police, “I just wanted to see what was going on.” If convicted, he faces a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison.
Ironically, his arrest came during a National Drone Safety Awareness Week sponsored by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Officials at Los Angeles International Airport promoted the campaign with the slogan “Airports and drones don’t mix”.
The FAA says reports of drone sightings near airports have increased dramatically over the last two years with more than 100 being received on average every month. Pilots of commercial airliners landing at airports have reported a number of incidents of near-misses with unmanned aircraft.
(News Source: https://news.sky.com)