Friday, January 09, 2015

ShadowHawk: Video released from Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office drone crash

Video from the moments leading up to the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office drone crashing into Lake Conroe last April has been released following an open records request by The Courier. 

The video shows roughly 22 minutes of officer training with the unmanned aircraft vehicle flying over the lake and surrounding bodies of land before the video blanks out at the 22:34  mark.

The video cuts out before the aircraft crashes into the lake.

On the video, the aircraft flies over the dam and a nearby construction site.

The drone camera zooms in and out of focus in both color and black and white.

Faces of what appear to be MCSO personnel and a construction worker are difficult to identify based on the video, but the camera does not focus on private property.

Lt. Brady Fitzgerald said the agency  flew the drone over locations programmed into vehicle and practiced utilizing the camera.

"It's all for training purposes," Fitzgerald said.

The ShadowHawk aircraft purchased in 2011 by the county through a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant for about $240,000 crashed into the lake April 25, 2014.

Divers spent two weeks searching for the 7-foot, 55-pound aircraft before it was discovered underwater by the Houston Police Department.

The National Transportation Safety Board as of this week is still drafting a report on the investigation into the crash, according to NTSB spokesperson Keith Holloway. There is no set timetable for when the report will be completed and made available to the public.

The sheriff’s office has cited an equipment failure as the cause of the crash. What remains unclear is what exactly caused the equipment failure.

One of the blades came apart while the drone was airborne over Lake Conroe, according to MCSO.

There is a dispute between the ShadowHawk manufacturer, Vanguard Defense Industries, and MCSO regarding how the drone was stored and regularity of officer training.

MCSO officials have denied allegations that the drone was stored transported without its coupler, which is designed to protect it from structural damage.

Montgomery County awarded a $188,950 bid Nov. 17 to Canada-based Aeryon Labs Inc. in Waterloo, Ontario for the purchase of a smaller drone as the original's replacement.  

The new drone, also funded through a Department of Homeland Security grant, is significantly smaller (40 inches in diameter when fully extended and about 5 pounds), cheaper and easier to maintain than the ShadowHawk aircraft, according to sheriff's officials.

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