2 arrested after drone allegedly came within 800 feet of NYPD helicopter

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Jim Hoffer reports on the Eyewitness News Investigation (WABC)

Police have arrested two people for operating a drone over the George Washington Bridge that came within 800 feet of an NYPD helicopter.

One of those arrested tells Eyewitness News that officers from the nearby police precinct would routinely stop by and watch his friends and him fly drones.

That's why they were surprised when during a recent night-time flight of their drone, the NYPD aviation unit had them arrested.

Video shows the encounter between a small drone and the helicopter. Remy Castro and his friend Wilkins Mendoza have been charged with operating the drone so recklessly as to create a grave risk of death.

('Your drone endangered the helicopter?', Eyewitness News asked.) "I don't know, it was nowhere near it. It's a toy. I don't know how they give me a felony for a toy," said Castro.

An officer with the Police Aviation Unit claims the drone flew nearly 2000 feet in the sky early Monday morning into the path of the helicopter near the bridge.

The police pilot in an arrest complaint said, if the "drone had hit one of his helicopter's blades it could have damaged the flight mechanism..thereby preventing it from continuing flight."

"No way we threatened the helicopter. The helicopter came toward us, we were in our fly zone this little space here flying back and forth .. He's the one getting close to us so we get nervous." said Castro's brother Jonathan.

Those watching the drone operation at an intersection below say the video is proof that the drone and helicopter are not that close, that the drone, only slightly higher than the surrounding six story buildings, actually tries to move even further away from the copter.

"They are shaking their heads in disbelief. They are hobbyists who bought these drones to have fun in the neighborhood. They didn't think there was anything possibly illegal about having these drones," said the drone operators' attorney, Michael Kushner.

The FAA rules require recreational drones to fly below "400 feet", and "away from airports and air traffic."

There's been only one other NYPD arrest for reckless operation of a drone. Last October, after an Eyewitness News investigation, a Brooklyn man was charged with crashing his drone and nearly striking a commuter in Midtown. In this latest case, there was no crash, not even a close call according to one of the drone owners.

('When you saw the copter what did the operator of the drone do?') "He brought it down immediately," said Remy Castro.

The video only shows a portion of the encounter. According to the arrest complaint, the police pilot claims he had to alter his flight path because of the drone.

During the arrest two drones were confiscated. Neither was equipped with a camera.

Meanwhile, the F-A-A says it is investigating as well.

Related Topics:
dronesarrestgeorge washington bridgeinvestigatorsNew York CityInwood
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