A man has been arrested by FBI special agents in Los Angeles on charges of recklessly flying a drone that crashed into a police helicopter.
The case against Andrew Rene Hernandez is believed to be the first criminal prosecution ever in the US alleging the unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.
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 drone damaged the chopper’s nose, antenna and cowling – the covering of the engine – in the impact.
“If the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down,” according to the criminal complaint filed in the United States District Court.
Officers found parts of the drone on the ground, along with a vehicle damaged by the debris, and identified Hernandez by reviewing the drone’s camera and memory card.
The 22-year-old told police he just wanted to “see what was going on”.
If convicted, he faces a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison.
His arrest came during what is 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.
Last year, flights at Gatwick Airport were grounded after reports of drones in the area, causing the cancellation of 1,000 flights over three days.
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