A drone pilot in the United Kingdom who flew his drone dangerously close to a historic World War II Hurricane aircraft while thousands of people were standing underneath it was given a fine of almost $4,000 for his actions.
The drone pilot, who was identified as Mark Bagguley and is 49 years old, used his drone to film the Buxton Carnival despite being aware that a flyby was scheduled to take place. He was given a sentence of six months probation with no jail time to serve.
The pilot of the plane and the people watching from the crowds below would have been killed, according to the statements made by the Police, if the drone had collided with the plane.
PC Matthew Moore, flight safety manager for the drones team at Derbyshire Police, said, “Any drone in the air will pose a danger to any manned aircraft.”
He went on to say that there were anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 people in the area at the time, which would have been enough people to cause a catastrophe on its own.
Only 12 Hurricanes that are still in flying condition can be found across the globe. The Hurricane is one of the two aircraft flown by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which has its home base at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. Annabel Lenton, a barrister for the prosecution, testified in front of the Derby Crown Court that the plane in question was the very last Hurricane ever built and is therefore extremely valuable.
At the time of the flyby, which occurred on July 9 of last year, neither the police nor the pilot of the Hurricane were aware that the drone was in the air.
The offenses were only discovered because a member of the public had been taking photographs of the Hurricane from the ground when they occurred.
“To be honest, until I had got the photos on the computer, I didn't know the drone were flying,” said the man, who asked not to be identified. “At first it looked like a bird or something like that, and then I zoomed it in and you could see the drone.”
He informed the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and they advised him to get in touch with the local authorities.
“I know all the regulations, and I knew it shouldn't have been flying,” he said. “You can imagine if that drone had hit it what could have happened, it would have been a major disaster.”
When the police looked on social media for clues about who might have been flying the drone, they found aerial photos of the Buxton Carnival that Bagguley had taken earlier that day.
They placed him under arrest, took possession of his drone, and then downloaded the data from it. When the data from the flight was superimposed on the flight path of the Hurricane, it became clear that Bagguley's drone had been the one that had been in the area around the Hurricane.
When the police initially questioned drone pilot Bagguley about the offenses, he denied having committed them. According to PC Moore, it wasn't until they started producing the pictures and the telemetry of the drone and the aircraft that he admitted what he had done.
Drone pilot was aware of NOTAM
Bagguley admitted to the police that he had checked a drone safety app and was aware of the NOTAM, but he claimed that he believed he still had time to film the carnival before the Hurricane flew over.
During an earlier hearing in Chesterfield Magistrates' Court, Bagguley pleaded guilty to the charge of putting an airplane in danger. In addition to this, he admitted to operating an aircraft beyond visual line of sight.
A letter of apology was read out during a further hearing at Chesterfield Magistrates' Court, in which the case was committed to Derby Crown Court for sentencing.
Defense barrister Laura Broome, who represented Bagguley at Derby Crown Court, reportedly said he was “clearly very excited about the carnival” and “thought he had sufficient time to fly the drone before the flypast began.”
She went on to say that although Bagguley had used the drone safety app in the past, he was unable to do so shortly before the flight due to a weak phone signal.
Drone pilot Bagguley faced a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison, but the judge chose to suspend his sentence of six months' imprisonment for a period of 12 months instead. In addition to that, he was given the mandate to perform 100 hours of unpaid labor and will be subject to electronic monitoring as well as a curfew at his residence.
In addition to being fined £3,000 (almost $4,000), Bagguley was ordered to pay costs of £450 (about $600) and a victim surcharge of £154 (about $200).
It is believed that drone pilot Bagguley is the second person to be prosecuted in the UK for operating a drone in close proximity to an aircraft.
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