Man Pleads Guilty After His Drone Hits LAPD Helicopter

This June 22, 2018, photo shows a Skydio R1 drone in Redwood City, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Los Angeles resident pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal criminal charge of unlawfully operating a drone that struck a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter last year.

Andrew Rene Hernandez, 22, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.

This past September, LAPD officers responded to reports of a burglary at a pharmacy in Hollywood and requested air support.

As a police helicopter approached the scene, the pilot spotted a drone in the flight path and attempted to evade it.

Despite the pilot’s attempt to maneuver away, Hernandez’s drone struck the helicopter and forced an emergency landing. 

The helicopter’s nose, antenna and bottom cowlings were damaged by the impact with the drone, according to a criminal complaint filed against Hernandez in the Central District of California.

According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, “if the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down.”

A vehicle on the ground was also damaged by the drone when it fell from the sky after colliding with the helicopter.

According to his plea agreement, Hernandez heard police activity near his home just after midnight on Sep. 18, 2020 and launched his drone to investigate what was happening. 

Special agents with the FBI arrested Hernandez this past November.

LAPD officers found parts of the damaged drone around the pharmacy and were able to identify Hernandez after reviewing the drone’s camera and memory card. The FBI also executed search warrants at Hernandez’s home.

U.S. District Judge George Wu scheduled an April 12 sentencing hearing for Hernandez.

Prosecutors said in a statement Thursday Hernandez faces a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison.

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