A Los Angeles man admitted in federal court Thursday that he flew a drone that struck a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter that was responding to a crime scene in Hollywood.
Andrew Rene Hernandez, 22, made the admission in pleading guilty to one count of unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft, a misdemeanor. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles said Hernandez is believed to be the first person in the country to be convicted of that offense, which carries a punishment of up to one year in prison.
In his plea agreement, Hernandez admitted that he “recklessly interfered with and disrupted” the operation of the LAPD helicopter, which was responding to a burglary of a pharmacy, and that his actions “posed an imminent safety hazard” to the chopper’s occupants.
Reached by phone Thursday, Hernandez declined to comment. His attorney didn’t return a request for comment.
U.S. District Judge George H. Wu scheduled a sentencing hearing for April 12. Prosecutors have yet to submit sentencing recommendations.
The incident began just after midnight on Sept. 18. The LAPD had dispatched a patrol unit, and eventually a helicopter, to a burglarized pharmacy, FBI Agent William Richau wrote in an affidavit.
En route, the officer piloting the helicopter spotted a drone and pulled up in an attempt to avoid it, Richau wrote. The drone struck the bottom of the helicopter and the pilot was forced to make an emergency landing at Hooper Heliport. The aircraft’s nose, antenna and engine covering were damaged, according to the affidavit.
LAPD officers on the ground found pieces of the drone, which had crashed into the rear windshield of a parked Toyota Corolla in Hollywood, the affidavit said.
An LAPD flight safety officer, J. Coley Maddigan, told the FBI that if the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor and not its fuselage, the helicopter could have gone down, the affidavit said.
In his plea agreement, Hernandez said he heard police sirens and a helicopter overhead and, being curious, launched his drone, a DJI Model M1X Mavic Pro Platinum.
Hernandez told FBI agents searching his home that as the drone ascended, he saw it get smacked by the helicopter, according to the agent’s affidavit. The drone went down and he walked around the block trying to find it, without success, the affidavit said.