Los Angeles Drone Pilot Faces Year in Prison

 - November 22, 2020, 2:53 PM
Andrew Rene Hernandez is facing federal charges for the unsafe operation of a drone that damaged an LAPD helicopterr. (Photo: U.S. Department of Justice)

During National Drone Safety Awareness Week, the FBI arrested the pilot of an sUAS drone that hit a Los Angeles police (LAPD) helicopter in September. In what is believed to be a U.S. law enforcement first, federal agents arrested Andrew Rene Hernandez, 22, on November 19 for criminal “unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.”

In an October interview with the FBI, Hernandez admitted to launching the drone shortly after midnight on September 18 because he was curious about the LAPD response to a break-in at a nearby Hollywood pharmacy. While an LAPD Airbus Helicopters AStar was flying above the pharmacy at approximately 12:35 a.m., the pilot saw and unsuccessfully attempted to avoid the drone, which struck the helicopter, damaging its nose, antenna, and bottom cowling. The helicopter then proceeded direct to the LAPD Hooper Heliport (4CAO) and made a precautionary landing. LAPD flight safety officer J. Coley Maddigan told investigators that had the drone struck the aircraft’s main rotor it would have brought the helicopter down.

Following the collision, pieces of the DJI Mavic Pro drone, s/n 08Q3G9KP01W033, fell through the rear window of a nearby unoccupied Toyota Corolla car. LAPD recovered the wreckage and used its serial number, onboard video, and witness tips to trace it back to Hernandez. If convicted, he faces up to one year in federal prison.