LOS ANGELES – Special agents with the FBI this morning arrested a Hollywood man on a federal charge alleging that he recklessly operated a drone that crashed into a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter.
The drone damaged the LAPD aircraft and the pilot was forced to initiate an emergency landing. The drone also damaged a vehicle when the unmanned aircraft fell from the sky after the crash.
Andrew Rene Hernandez, 22, was arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday that charges him with one count of unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.
According to the complaint filed in United States District Court, during the early morning hours of September 18, LAPD officers responded to a burglary call at a pharmacy in Hollywood. The responding officers requested air support, and an LAPD helicopter flew toward the scene. As the helicopter approached the pharmacy, the pilot saw the drone and attempted to evade the unmanned aircraft. Despite the evasive efforts, the drone stuck the helicopter, forcing the pilot to initiate an emergency landing. The drone damaged the helicopter’s nose, antenna and bottom cowlings. According to the complaint, “if the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down.”
LAPD officers located parts of the drone near the pharmacy and discovered a vehicle damaged by the drone as it fell from the sky. Further investigation, including a review of the drone’s camera and SD card, led to the identification of Hernandez as the drone’s operator.
The FBI executed additional search warrants in late October at Hernandez’s residence. Hernandez admitted to flying the drone on September 18 after he heard police vehicles and an approaching helicopter just after midnight. According to the complaint, Hernandez said he flew his drone “to see what was going on.” As the drone was ascending, Hernandez saw the drone “smacked” by the hovering police helicopter, and it fell to the ground at a nearby residence, the complaint states.
Hernandez is expected to make his initial appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
As charged, the unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft offense alleged in the complaint is a misdemeanor offense that carries a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison.
The investigation in this matter is being conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the LAPD, with the assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Reema M. El-Amamy of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section.
The case against Hernandez is believed to be the first criminal case in the nation alleging the unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft. Today’s arrest comes during National Drone Safety Awareness Week, which is sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration and seeks to promote drone safety.