Feds Get First Conviction for Unsafe Drone Operation

Man almost brought down an LAPD helicopter
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2021 12:00 PM CST
LA Man Is First to Be Convicted Under Drone Law
The drone "posed an imminent safety hazard" to the two occupants of the helicopter, prosecutors said.   (Getty Images/kathon_lanang)

A man whose drone almost caused an LAPD helicopter to crash is the first person convicted under a 2018 federal law against unsafe drone operation, prosecutors say. Andrew Hernandez, a 22-year-old Hollywood resident, pleaded guilty to unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft and faces a maximum penalty of up to a year in prison, the Los Angeles Times reports. Hernandez "recklessly operated a drone that crashed into and damaged the fuselage" of the helicopter on Sept. 18 last year, forcing an emergency landing, the US attorney’s office for the Central District of California said in a statement Thursday. An affidavit stated that if the drone had hit a rotor instead of the fuselage, "it could have brought the helicopter down." The FBI and the FAA were involved in the investigation.

Court documents state that Hernandez told investigators he became "curious about the commotion" after hearing a police helicopter late at night and sent his DJI Model M1X Mavic Pro Platinum drone up for a look, NBC reports. The pilot of the helicopter, which had been responding to a report of a burglary at a pharmacy, tried to avoid the drone, but it struck the bottom of the helicopter. The pilot was then forced to land. Prosecutors said LAPD officers found parts of the drone near the pharmacy. They identified Hernandez as the operator after viewing the drone's camera and SD card. "This conviction is believed to be the nation's first criminal conviction for the unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft," prosecutors said. (Authorities in LA are also trying to find "Jetpack Guy.")

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