Hollywood man pleads guilty to operating drone that hit police copter

A 22-year-old Hollywood man pleaded guilty Thursday, Jan. 14, to recklessly operating a drone that crashed into a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter in what’s considered the nation’s first use of the federal criminal charge.

Andrew Rene Hernandez pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft, which carries a penalty of up to a year behind bars, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He is scheduled for sentencing in April.

During the early morning hours of Sept. 18, Los Angeles police officers answered a burglary call at a pharmacy in Hollywood and requested air support. As an LAPD helicopter approached the pharmacy, the pilot saw the drone and attempted to evade the unmanned aircraft.

The drone struck the helicopter, forcing the pilot to initiate an emergency landing. The drone damaged the helicopter’s nose, antenna and bottom cowlings, according to court papers, which state that “if the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down.”

LAPD officers located parts of the drone. Further investigation, including a review of the drone’s camera and SD card, led to the identification of Hernandez as the drone’s operator.

After he heard police vehicles and an approaching helicopter just after midnight, Hernandez said, he flew his drone “to see what was going on,” according to court papers.

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