Drone pilot could have caused 'catastrophic' helicopter crash akin to Leicester City disaster, court hears

Adam Forrest

The owner of a drone has become the first in the UK to be prosecuted for interfering with a police operation after flying his £900 device into the path of a search helicopter.

Sergej Miaun, 37, was found guilty of making an unsafe drone flight at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court on Friday.

A police helicopter had been out looking for a missing woman in the area along the River Nene in Cambridgeshire on 9 December, but the pilot was forced to take “evasive action” when Mr Miaun’s drone flew narrowly underneath.

Officers then followed the drone back to a home in Guyhirn before finding the Phantom 4 device hidden in a loft hatch above the bath.

The amateur flight – controlled using an iPad – could have caused “catastrophic” consequences similar to the recent Leicester City helicopter crash which killed by five people, the court heard.

Mr Miaun claimed the drone was never more than 420m away from his home. But close examination of the flight path revealed it had drifted half a mile from his home.

“You could not reasonably be satisfied that the flight could be safely made,” said chief magistrate Hilary Glover.

“We consider this to be reckless, especially considering the possible serious consequences of your actions.”

He was told to pay fines and court costs amounting to £464. The chief magistrate also ordered Mr Miaun give up the drone.

Police said it was the first time a conviction on this charge had been made in relation to interfering with a police operation.

Captain Lee Holmes, who was flying the police helicopter, said it “came as a great surprise” when the drone first showed up on the aircraft’s monitor.

“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.”

After losing sight of the drone, Captain Holmes had to take “evasive action” to lift the helicopter up so he could “build up situational awareness”.

He added: “For five minutes I don’t know where the drone is. You see in Leicester when it goes wrong – it’s catastrophic.”

Police helicopter tracked drone back to home in Guyhirn (SWNS)

Mr Miaun said he decided to fly the drone out to the A47 – next to the river – as he saw police lights he thought there could be an accident.

“After three minutes I realised the helicopter was there. It switched on a big light. I turned (the drone) around and went back to my garden.”

He continued: “It was a safe distance. If I interrupted the pilot, I apologise for that.”

Acting Sergeant Darren Gore said: “This is the first conviction of this type in the UK. It should serve as a warning to all people flying drones that they need to be operated within the limits of the law.”

Liz Sugg, minister for aviation at the Department for Transport, said: “The drone user responsible for this incident was not only jeopardising the lives of the officers on board this police helicopter but also those of the people they help to keep safe.

“This court case should send a clear message to anyone who owns or flies a drone that doing so recklessly is breaking the law and they could face a criminal prosecution.”

Additional reporting by SWNS