Saturday, July 01, 2017

Arrest made in drone flights over Goodwin Fire, Arizona

A 54-year-old Prescott Valley man suspected of flying a drone that grounded Goodwin Fire firefighting efforts last week has been arrested.
The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office reported Saturday that Gene Alan Carpenter was arrested on charges of endangerment and unlawful operation of an unmanned aircraft. 

Carpenter is accused of endangering 14 aircraft and air crews as well as ground fire crews with a "substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury" by flying a drone in the fire's airspace.

The Arizona Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey last year passed a law making it illegal for a drone to interfere with emergency or law-enforcement efforts. There are also federal laws regulating drone flights.

The fire area had been designated a no-fly zone for non-firefighting aircraft, Yavapai County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said.

A witness first reported a man flying a drone in the no-fly zone on June 24, telling officials the man was operating the drone while standing near a white van close to the Mount Union Lookout Tower, D'Evelyn said.

U.S. Forest Service personnel stationed inside the tower also reported the incident. 

Deputies developed leads identifying Carpenter as the suspect based on prior contacts, D'Evelyn said.

The reports of a man flying a drone in the fire area continued throughout the week. That Tuesday, a witness reported that a man matching Carpenter's description was standing next to a white van with a drone in the back on Iron King Mine Road, D'Evelyn said.

A drone was also spotted on Thursday in the same airspace as 14 firefighting aircraft, including five helicopters, three large air tankers, and five heavy air tankers. 

An air attack pilot told Sheriff's Office detectives that he spotted the drone at his altitude and that when he tried to see where it was coming from, the drone began circling his plane, D'Evelyn said.

The incident prompted officials to ground all firefighting aircraft and subsequently caused ground crews to disengage from the fire because they were left unprotected without the assistance of firefighting aircraft, D'Evelyn said.

Aircraft were grounded for nearly an hour, D'Evelyn said.

Carpenter was arrested Friday after officers used witness information, drone descriptions and photos obtained from Carpenter's website showing drone views of the Goodwin Fire to implicate him in the incidents, D'Evelyn said. 

An off-duty Sheriff's Office deputy spotted Carpenter's van in Prescott on Friday, coordinating the response of deputies to stop Carpenter and seize the drone inside his vehicle, D'Evelyn said.

Detectives are meeting with federal officials on Monday to discuss additional charges based on federal statutes regarding temporary flight restrictions.

1 comment:

  1. Good glad they caught him, we in the RC world have been against this type of activity from day one.