New York Police Department arrested two men Monday for allegedly flying a small drone that nearly collided with a police helicopter near the George Washington Bridge, reported the New York Times.
Manhattan residents Wilkins Mendoza, 34, and Remy Castro, 23, were taken into custody on a reckless endangerment charge after police pursued the drone to find the two men holding its remote control. Police said that the helicopter had to swerve to avoid a collision with the unmanned aircraft, although currently police do not know if the drone was in the path of the helicopter. NYPD did, however, confirm that the drone was within 800 feet of the helicopter. Daniel B. Schwarzbach, the executive director of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, noted that this was a dangerous distance given the speed of the helicopter.
“We support the use of this technology, but we support its responsible use,” Schwarzbach said. “Just go onto YouTube and you’ll see tons of examples of people using these things irresponsibly: flying at altitudes of more than 400 feet or flying over bridges.”
The men were shocked by the firm response to their drone recreation, reported the New York Post. “We were just playing with it,” Mendoza told the New York Post. “It’s crazy.” Michael Kushner, lawyer for the NYC drone arrest perpetrators, has taken the same line. In a press conference following the pair’s arraignment in the Manhattan Criminal Court, Kushner said that as the craft only has the ability to fly below 300 feet, the men were doing nothing more than “flying a kite.” Friends of the two men claimed that the men were reaching heights of up to 5,000 feet before their arrest. Following their arraignment, the drone enthusiasts were released without bail by the judge at the prosecutor’s recommendation, according to New York Daily News
Mendoza and Castro had been flying their drones around NYC since they were purchased within the last two weeks. The pair spent $500 and $700 on each of their drones. The craft that resulted in the NYC drone arrest was a DGI Phantom 2. The Federal Aviation Administration, however, says that the drone was flying above 2000 feet – five times the current 400-foot limit. The agency released guidelines earlier this year that place drones under the same regulations as other aircraft, but the F.A.A. is obligated by law to define specific drone laws by 2015. In 2013, NYPD police commissioner Ray Kelly told citizens they were considering the use of drones to increase surveillance.