Drone Operator Faces Federal Charges In Police Helicopter Collision


A 22-year-old drone operator who wanted to “see what was going on” could face a one-year jail term after his aircraft hit a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter Sept. 18. According to Fox News, Andrew Rene Hernandez’s drone hit the fuselage of the chopper, prompting an emergency landing but no injuries. It’s not clear if the aircraft was damaged but a car was hit by the falling drone. Police recovered the wreckage and checked the video card, which had nice clear images of the owner. He was arrested by the FBI last Thursday and charged with one count of unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft, a federal misdemeanor offense with a maximum one-year sentence. There was no suggestion the collision was intentional.

The helicopter was responding to a call from officers on the ground investigating the burglary of a drug store when the incident occurred. Federal officers told the court the incident could have been much worse. “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.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. This is just another example of a common type of behaviors which are non critical and “automatic”. It’s sort of the plague of society which results in innumerable casualties, to self and others. Skipping checklists, eating that sweet roll, having unprotected sex with a non vetted partner, “one more for the road” — the list is probably endless.
    I’m curious. How many “automatic” behaviors have you engaged in over the last 24 hours? How do you evaluate stuff that seems harmless or without significant consequences, yet in reality is of significant immediate or long term danger to your self or others? How do you increase your awareness without that awareness becoming a burden? How often do you respond emotionally rather than, as Dr. Spock would say, “logically”?

    • I think you’re thinking of Mister, not Doctor, Spock. Mr. Spock spoke logically; Dr. Spock was known for his infantile remarks.

  2. ‘Federal officers told the court the incident could have been much worse. “If the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down,”

    No sheet, Sherlock. And life would carry on. Another example of the depth of thinking from the Feds I see.

    There are many insurance companies the world over, all based on ‘What If?’ Good god, man, what’s the matter with you? WHAT IF!!!??

    Just think, if we could remove individual levels of consciousness that are all based on personal, limited information and experience, the randominity of the universe of outside forces at all levels, karma, both individual and social, spontaneity – an excellent use for peripheral ways of learning about mental discipline and ourselves – and so much more, and replace it all with unattainable ideas of perfection, logic, germ free…. ah, s%$t.

    Anybody ever had orange juice, bacon, eggs and a croissant on a balcony in Italy after spending a night with, someone, and lock yourself out of the hotel room and subsequently lose your ID from the sublime confusion of an emotional high because you were 22 years old on leave from Germany? Well, I know how I would respond. 😉

  3. This is pretty much a typical example of why rules and restrictions are often a waste of time. Rules are written by government agencies who naively assume people will actually read and follow directions. But, it seems that people tend to be divided into three categories: 1) The people who follow the rules, but don’t really need them because they generally know what to do; 2) The people who think rules only apply to other people and they are “special” and therefore don’t need to follow them; and 3) Peole who are totally oblivious to common sense and just don’t think about consequences or rules. Unfortunately, when people in group 2 or 3 create a problem, the government feels compelled to enact even stricter rules or restrictions, which only make life difficult for those in group 1. Proving once again that you can’t legislate common sense and can’t fix stupid.

  4. you see that stupid grin on his face, this must have been a “Hey Bubba, hold my beer & watch this” moment. He probably is not licensed under part 107, he was probably above 400 feet, and in airspace he should not have been in. I hope he gets the max, it will get the attention of of all the other Bubba’s out there. Guys like this give all drone operators a bad name.

  5. As a former rc modeler flying in NYC crowded airspace, I was able to fly model airplanes and helicopters (older versions using methanol fuel). Having AMA insurance to abide by each rc model field and understanding the maximum 400 feet of altitude while remaining within the confines of the field, it was never difficult to enjoy rc modeling. Of course, there were days of clear blue sky and zero commercial aircraft around when some stray above the 400 foot ceiling with zero issues, even when the club heads were observing. The motto was “if you can’t see your model and forgot what direction it was flying, you’re model is too far away”. The majority of rc modelers learned this simple concept as experience grew. Having outgrown rc modeling I acquired my ppl in helicopters. Having rc model experience and pilot’s license, it easy for me to see both sides with most rc modelers obeying the rules. Unfortunately, drone fliers seem to disobey or are deliberately ignorant of model aircraft rules that have existed for many decades. The uninformed drone fliers have created the nightmare now regulated to govern drone flying. From my experiences, if I were to fly drones, I would immerse myself in regulations to determine where to safely fly. My rc modeler existences taught me that. Drone fliers ignoring regulations simply makes governing them the only way to force compliance to ensure none encounter full size aircraft from a total lapse in judgement as this young man did. Ignorance could have killed everyone in that helicopter. I’ve encountered ignorance in my neighborhood a few years ago when discussing how drones can down aircraft. I was met with complete disbelief, mostly due to sheer ignorance of how a small drone can be ingested into a turbo prop or jet engine. Little do these drone fliers realize what if they were in that plane or helicopter and it collided with a drone?