Early on Monday morning, some guy messing around with a DJI Phantom quadcopter close to the White House lost control of his flying machine, sending it crashing down onto one of the most famous lawns in the world.
Following widespread news coverage, the drone operator contacted officials to let them know his behavior had had no sinister intent, and that he was simply flying his toy recreationally.
What didn’t quite add up was the fact that the incident took place at 3am, not the usual time to crank up a drone for a quick fly-by of the president’s official residence. On Tuesday, however, the story became a little clearer, though no less odd.
Plastered government worker
According to the NY Times, flying the quadcopter was an off-duty government intelligence agency worker. A drunk one.
The inebriated individual was reportedly operating the drone from an apartment a short distance from the White House. He apparently didn’t know it’d gone down in the grounds of the president’s home, though texts sent to friends immediately afterwards suggested he feared that it had.
Still, instead of going out to look for the remote-control copter, he decided to hit the hay and worry about it later. The next morning, possibly following a sleep filled with nightmares about multiple news shows reporting on a mysterious drone breaching White House security, he awoke to multiple news shows reporting on a mysterious drone breaching White House security. Keen to do the right thing, after having done the wrong thing, he called the authorities to own up to the act.
The NY Times said officials described the incident as “nothing more than a drunken misadventure,” though it has of course raised concerns about security at the White House as the two-foot-wide quadcopter evaded radar and wasn’t spotted until it was well inside the perimeter fence.
With officials keenly aware that terrorists could potentially use the diminutive flying machines to launch some kind of attack, research is taking place to find ways to detect incursions by small remotely operated aircraft and bring them down quickly. Perhaps this drone-hunting drone might help.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday [video], President Obama touched on the incident, saying the drone was the sort “you buy at RadioShack.”
Discussing the technology, Obama admitted the government has been slow to act on launching a framework for the use of drones, and that the situation needed to change so that “we get the good and minimize the bad.”
The Federal Aviation Administration is currently working on drawing up regulations for the flying machines, though its failure to move more quickly on the matter has frustrated a number of companies – Amazon among them – that want to use the technology in their business.
As for the man at the center of Monday’s incident, it’s not known if any action will be taken against him, though presumably he’ll be looking for an open field well away from the White House for his next quadcopter adventure.