Los Angeles, CA – Federal agents arrested a Hollywood man on Thursday for allegedly crashing a drone into a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) helicopter in September.
The case is believed to be the first federal criminal charge for misdemeanor unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft in the nation, KSWB reported.
The incident began in the early morning hours of Sept. 18, when the LAPD received a report of a burglary at a Hollywood pharmacy, according to the criminal complaint.
Air support was also dispatched to the scene.
But when the helicopter began approaching the scene, the pilot spotted the unmanned aircraft in its path, KSWB reported.
The pilot tried to evade the drone, but it ultimately crashed into the police helicopter and forced the pilot to make an emergency landing, according to court documents.
The collision left the helicopter with damage to its bottom cowlings, antenna, and nose.
The LAPD said the crash could have easily been deadly, KSWB reported.
“If the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down,” according to court documents.
Remnants of the demolished drone rained down near the pharmacy, causing damage to a vehicle parked in the area, KSWB reported.
Investigators were able to retrieve the unmanned aircraft’s security digital card and camera, which helped them to identify 22-year-old Andrew Rene Hernandez as the alleged operator of the drone, according to prosecutors.
During the execution of a search warrant at Hernandez’ home in late October, he allegedly admitted to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents that he heard sirens just after midnight on Sept. 18, so he decided to launch the drone to go “see what was going on,” court documents read.
Hernandez said the helicopter “smacked” the unmanned aircraft as it was ascending, and that the drone subsequently crashed to the ground at a house nearby, according to police.
Hernandez’s arrest occurred during the Federal Aviation Administration’s National Drone Safety Awareness Week, KSWB reported.
He faces up to a year in federal prison if he is convicted of the charge against him.
FBI Los Angeles Assistant Director Kristi Johnson said that the increased popularity of drones will likely cause more problems in the future if people aren’t careful, Newsweek reported.
“It’s important for parents and for the general public to just be aware,” Johnson said. “We don’t want critical incidents happening. We don’t want lives at stake over people operating drones.”