Photo Info
An Airbus AS350 B2 from the Los Angeles Police Department.

Man pleads guilty to recklessly operating drone that collided with LAPD helicopter

U.S. Department of Justice Press Release | January 18, 2021

Estimated reading time 3 minutes, 11 seconds.

A Hollywood man pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge that he recklessly operated a drone that crashed into and damaged the fuselage of a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter.

An Airbus AS350 B2 from the Los Angeles Police Department.
A file photo of a patrol helicopter operated by the Los Angeles Police Department. Skip Robinson Photo

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

According to his plea agreement, on Sept. 18, 2020, at approximately 12:18 a.m., Hernandez heard police vehicles driving near his residence and a police helicopter flying overhead. Curious about the commotion, Hernandez launched a drone that he owned toward the police activity and in the helicopter’s direction.

An LAPD helicopter operated by two police officers was flying towards a reported emergency at a pharmacy in Hollywood. As the helicopter approached the pharmacy, the pilot saw the drone and attempted to evade the unmanned aircraft.

Despite the evasive efforts, the drone stuck the helicopter, forcing the pilot to initiate an emergency landing. According to an affidavit filed with a criminal complaint in this case, “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 near the pharmacy and discovered a vehicle damaged by the drone as it fell from the sky. Further investigation, including a review of the drone’s camera and secure digital (SD) card, led to the identification of Hernandez as the drone’s operator, according to court documents.

United States District Judge George H. Wu scheduled an April 12 sentencing hearing, at which time Hernandez will face a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison.

The investigation in this matter was conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the LAPD, with the assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration. This conviction is believed to be the nation’s first criminal conviction for the unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Reema M. El-Amamy of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section.

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