New York police helicopter clashes with amateur drone pilots

The NYPD claimed the drone was endangering them, but leaked recordings from air traffic control suggests they flew at it on purpose
  • @jjvincent

Two drone operators from New York have been arrested under charges of reckless endangerment after the NYPD accused them of flying a quadrocopter at a police helicopter.

The incident has highlighted the growing tensions between drone enthusiasts and official regulators of public air space, with a leaked recording of the two helicopter pilots revealing that they purposefully chased the aircraft.

The trouble began on Sunday evening when the NYPD contacted local air traffic controllers with reports of “an aircraft [doing] vertical climbs pretty fast”:

“He has to be military. He's moving,” said one of the pilots according to transcripts. “He's right over top of us right now, LaGuardia. He did a 180 really quick. Going down the east river at this time. I just want to make sure it’s not a drone.”

The NYPD followed the craft while officers on the ground tracked down the two pilots - Remy Castro, 23 and Wilkins Mendoza, 34. The two were arrested for “reckless endangerment” (engaging in “conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person”) but have since said that the NYPD were “endangering themselves”.

The ‘drone’ in question turned out to be a DJI Phantom – one of the most commonly available commercial drones, and a craft that comes ready to fly out of the box for as little as £350.

The increasing accessibility of this technology means that regulators and local governments are having to find new ways to regulate air space, with recent guidelines set out by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) classifying quadrocopters like the Phantom as "model aircraft" with restricted use.

This incident is not an isolated event, with another amateur drone operator getting into trouble this June after their craft was ‘downed’ by a crowd of drunken US sports fans.