A Russian-speaking man from Cambridgeshire has become the first person in the UK to be convicted of illegally flying a drone beneath a police helicopter during a search operation.
Sergej Miaun's antics with his DJI Phantom 4 caused a search for a missing woman to be abandoned after police helicopter pilot Lee Holmes became aware of the quadcopter buzzing around beneath his aircraft.
The National Police Air Service helicopter had been helping workers on the ground look for the woman who was thought to be somewhere near the River Nene, which passes through the hamlet of Guyhirn, around 16km (10 miles) east of Peterborough.
Holmes told Peterborough Magistrates' Court, as reported by the Peterborough Telegraph: "My first assumption was it was being used by the fire brigade or the police and we were not aware of it. We quickly established that was not the case. The problem is we did not know its size or scale and didn't know what we were dealing with or who was controlling it."
Once police had identified the drone, they followed it half a mile up Guyhirn High Road, which runs roughly parallel with the river, and watched the Phantom land in Miaun's back garden. After Miaun allegedly told a PCSO who knocked on his door to go away, a police sergeant turned up, arrested him, searched his house and found the drone hidden behind a loft hatch in the bathroom.
Miaun said he kept the drone there to "protect it from the children", with the Peterborough Telegraph reporting that he spoke English in court "but with help at times from a Russian interpreter".
His explanation was that he saw police lights over the A47 and flew the drone over there in first-person view (FPV) mode, controlling it from his iPad, thinking there may have been a road accident: "After three minutes I realised the helicopter was there. It switched on a big light. I turned (the drone) around and it went back to my garden."
Sentencing him last week, the chairwoman of the magistrates' panel, Hilary Glover, told the drone operator: "You could not reasonably be satisfied that the flight could be safely made. We consider this to be reckless, especially considering the possible serious consequences of your actions."
Miaun was found guilty on two counts of breaching the Air Navigation Order: one of breaching article 94(3), which states pilots of small unmanned aircraft "must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft"; and one charge under article 94(2), which states: "The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made."
Magistrates ordered Miaun to pay a total of £464, including a fine of £184, court costs of £250 and a £30 victim surcharge tax, as well as confiscating the £900 drone itself. The maximum fine for these breaches is £2,500.
Drone operators must fly their craft no higher than 400 feet above ground level (it is a crime to fly one higher than that) and keep it within line of sight. The Civil Aviation Authority's Drone Safe website has an easy-to-read summary of the law on drone flying, complete with simple graphics. ®