The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona announced this weekend that 54-year-old Gene Alan Carpenter from Prescott Valley has been arrested for hindering aircraft after allegedly flying his unmanned drone in close proximity to one of the firefighting planes. Detailed by police, the drone was spotted circling one of the planes and forced officials to ground 14 aircraft fighting the raging wildfire for roughly an hour.
Besides planes, those aircraft include five helicopters and multiple air tankers. Contained around 44 percent as of Saturday, the fire has been burning through the Prescott National Forest over the past week. That area is located roughly 100 miles north of Phoenix. Authorities have restricted the area from non-firefighting aircraft in order to clear all flight paths. As of Friday, over one thousand firefighters are battling the wildfire.
Police have charged Carpenter with fourteen counts of felony endangerment and one misdemeanor count of unlawful operation of an unmanned aircraft. Before picking him up, a witness had described a man fitting Carpenter’s description standing near a white van positioned near the Mount Union Lookout Tower. When police searched Carpenter’s website, they found several pictures of the Goodwin Fire taken from a drone’s aerial position.
It’s possible that Carpenter will face additional charges from federal authorities, specifically related to temporary no-fly zone federal statutes. While detectives are planning to meet on Monday with federal authorities regarding those charges, Carpenter is currently facing a bond of $25,000 as well as a court date on July 6, 2017.
The FAA created a set of guidelines to help drone operators keep flights legal. Some of those recommendations include staying clear of airports (a five-mile radius) as well as avoiding large event areas like stadiums. The radius is extended during major events like the Super Bowl. During 2016, the FAA warned drone operators that all drones within a 36-mile radius would be shot down if seen in flight.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that a drone operator has been arrested for flying in the wrong place. During 2015, a California man was arrested after his drone flew within 50 feet of an LAPD helicopter. Also during 2015, two people were arrested in a plot to illegally transport goods into a prison utilizing a drone.
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