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Drone operators detained by NYPD may not have committed anything illegal

Memorial Day Tech Guide DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter
The operators of two drones such as the one pictured here were recently detained by the New York Police Department for flying too close to an NYPD copter.
Update on July 11, 2014: According to a new report by Vice Motherboard, it appears that the story outlined below happened quite differently from the original reports. In fact, air traffic control recordings from LaGuardia Airport posted by reveal that it wasn’t actually the drones that motioned toward the NYPD chopper, but rather the NYPD chopper that went to investigate the two flying objects; to the pilots, the drones appeared to be military devices due to their flying altitude and speed.

The records also reveal that police initially had no reason to detain the two drone operators other than the chopper’s pilots looking for a way to “maybe disable these guys,” deeming their actions reckless “regardless of whether or not it was a toy.” Interesting to note is also that one of the chopper pilots claims the drones had ascended from zero to 2,000 feett in a matter of seconds, which is entirely impossible with the DJI Phantom multicopters the detainees were using.

So while the two drone operators may not in fact have done anything illegal, or anything that would’ve endangered the police helicopter, this story still teaches us to be more careful when flying a drone copter, and to be more considerate about where we fly it. (H/t Vice)

Original storyOn July 9, 2014, we reported about the FAA investigating the use of camera-equipped drone copters during fireworks, after two attendants at the Fourth of July fireworks in Nashville, Tenn. complained about a drone being present during the event. As we mentioned in another recent article, the major concern is crowd safety, as there’s no telling how easily exploding fireworks could damage a multicopter and causing it to crash.

Now, we have a report of another incident with drones that saw their operators temporarily detained by the New York Police Department in New York City. During a patrol flight of an Aviation Unit chopper near the George Washington Bridge on July 7, its pilots noticed two flying objects at about 2,000 feet; according to the police report, the two objects – which turned out to be remote-controlled drone copters – then motioned toward the NYPD helicopter, which had to change its course in order to avoid a collision.

Following the two drones to their landing spot, the chopper’s pilots called in an NYPD ground patrol to detain their operators. Though charged with felony reckless endangerment, the two were eventually set free without bail. Still, the incident proves once again that operating a camera-equipped drone copter isn’t all fun and games.

Though the two drone operators claim that it was the police helicopter that motioned toward them, and not the other way around, the situation warrants some serious thinking about how drones should be used, and how they shouldn’t. Apparently, we still know too little about the potential dangers involved in drone use.

And then there’s the whole legal issue, which to this day isn’t entirely solved because drone copters haven’t been around long enough. Incidents like this one or the FAA investigation into drone use during fireworks don’t give much hope, though, that future laws regarding drone use will be anything but restrictive. Which isn’t exactly a great prospect for those who are using drone copters for professional and artistic work.

(Via New York Post)

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Felix Esser
Felix is a freelance tech journalist with a strong focus on photography. Based out of central Germany, he contributes to…
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