A Los Angeles man pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor count after his drone crashed into a police helicopter, prompting an emergency landing, federal prosecutors said.
It’s believed to be the first criminal conviction for unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft in the nation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement.
Andrew Rene Hernandez, 22, of Hollywood, pleaded guilty to the single count in a plea agreement, according to court records.
He flew the drone just after midnight on Sept. 18 because he was curious after hearing a police helicopter and sirens, according to court documents.
The police helicopter with two officers inside was flying after a reported burglary at a nearby pharmacy, the documents say. The pilot saw the drone and tried to avoid it, but it hit the bottom of the helicopter. The chopper made an emergency landing at an airport.
A criminal complaint quotes an officer saying that if the drone had hit the helicopter’s main rotor, it could have brought down the helicopter.
Hernandez faces up to a year in prison when he is sentenced April 12, but a plea agreement says that prosecutors will recommend reductions in federal sentencing guidelines.
A federal public defender representing Hernandez did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday night. A phone number for Hernandez could not immediately be found.
Hernandez admitted to investigators that he operated the drone, according to a criminal complaint. He said the drone is hard to see at night, he looked down for a few seconds at the controller, and when he looked up he saw it was “smacked” by the hovering helicopter, according to the document.
While the conviction may be the first for unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft in the U.S., it is not the first time someone has been charged with illegal acts involving a drone.
Drones have been used to drop drugs in prisons in Ohio and Michigan. And following a 2018 incident, a Georgia man was prosecuted under a drone registration law, in what had been called a first.
Public safety officials in Southern California have also warned about drone operations surrounding wildfires, which can delay or impact aerial firefighting operations.
Man pleads guilty after drone hits LAPD helicopter, conviction 1st of its kind The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ NBC News.