Feds charge man after drone collides with LAPD helicopter

The helicopter pilot, who was responding to a call, had to make an emergency landing

By Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — FBI agents have arrested a Hollywood man, accusing him of recklessly operating a drone and crashing it into a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter earlier this year.

The collision damaged the chopper's fuselage and required the LAPD pilot to make an emergency landing following the September encounter.

An LAPD helicopter flies over downtown Los Angeles.
An LAPD helicopter flies over downtown Los Angeles. (Photo/Allen J. Schaben of Los Angeles Times via TNS)

The drone, which authorities say was operated by Andrew Rene Hernandez, then tumbled from the sky and crashed into a vehicle.

Hernandez, 22, was arrested Thursday and charged with unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft after an investigation by the FBI, the LAPD and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The potentially deadly collision occurred Sept. 18 after Los Angeles police officers responding to a predawn burglary call at a Hollywood pharmacy requested air support.

As the LAPD helicopter flew toward to the scene, the pilot spotted a drone and attempted to avoid the unmanned aircraft, according to federal prosecutors. Despite the evasive maneuver, the drone stuck the helicopter, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing. The drone hit the chopper's nose, antenna and bottom cowlings and could have caused the aircraft to crash, prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office said.

"If the drone had struck the helicopter's main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down," a criminal complaint against Hernandez said.

Within minutes of the copter's emergency landing, LAPD officers found parts of the drone near the pharmacy and discovered a vehicle damaged by the unmanned aircraft after it fell from the sky.

An examination of the drone's camera and video card identified Hernandez as the operator, prosecutors said. The FBI executed search warrants at his home in late October.

During an interview with FBI agents, Hernandez admitted to flying the drone on Sept. 18 after he heard police vehicles and an approaching helicopter shortly after midnight, prosecutors said.

According to the complaint, Hernandez said he flew his drone "to see what was going on." As the drone was ascending, Hernandez saw it "smacked" by the police helicopter, and it fell to the ground at a nearby residence.

Hernandez will appear in federal court Thursday. The misdemeanor offense carries a maximum sentence of one year in federal prison.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

(c)2020 the Los Angeles Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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