June 16--Federal law restricts pilots operating unmanned aerial vehicles for personal use from flying above certain altitudes and within specific distances to airports. But whoever launched a drone Friday night during the L.A. Kings victory celebration outside Staples Center appears at least on first blush not to have violated the law.
So far, no one has claimed ownership of the drone.
Amid the chants and fists raised in victory after the Kings won the Stanley Cup, a small quad-propeller drone hovered above the crowd, no more than 30 feet in the air.
When operated by a private person for a personal use, drones like the one that flew over Staples aren't illegal, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Personal drones are treated like model airplanes and helicopters: Fly carefully out of commercial airspace and don't hurt anybody.
But as the aircraft hovered over the throngs of fans last week, people took it upon themselves to let the drone know it wasn't welcome. A mob mentality set in and soon after, revelers were throwing everything they could to knock the drone down -- minus the kitchen sink.
After a light tap from an unidentified object on its left side, a black Kings T-shirt knocked the drone on the right and sent it careening down within arm's reach of the fans.
Video footage shows the drone getting pulled into the mass, where it was smashed to bits by a skateboard, according to the person who posted the video.
The owner of the drone hasn't come forward, Los Angeles police said, and the Staples Center and Kings organizations have said the aircraft wasn't theirs.
"We're treating it as lost property at this point," said LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman.
No camera was recovered and nothing has been reported stolen, he said. Though there's video of the incident, the FAA said it hadn't received a report about it.
Despite its legality, the drone highlights a new wrinkle in airspace regulation -- what to do with the growing prevalence of unmanned personal aircraft and their ever-growing capabilities?
On Monday, the FAA referred questions on personal use of drones to a 1981 law on operating model aircraft that requires that says they have to operate safely, below 400 feet and at least three miles from an airport. On some level, remote flying aircraft have been available to private citizens for decades. But the drone manufacturing industry is booming and what they're able to capture on camera is expanding, forcing the FAA to give the aircraft special attention.
Last November, the FAA issued what it called a road map that sets the stage for law enforcement agencies, businesses, universities and hobbyists to fly remotely piloted aircraft, better known as drones, inside the United States by 2015.
The 74-page document was criticized by some privacy advocates, who say the FAA needs to clarify how the government and private users can use video and other data from the unarmed surveillance drones, and how long it can be stored.
Michael P. Huerta, the FAA administrator, estimated that 7,500 small drones could be flying in U.S. skies within five years if regulations are written on schedule. He said the chief concern is writing requirements for drone design and pilot training to prevent unmanned planes from colliding with other aircraft.
More than 80 law enforcement agencies now have agreements with the FAA to fly drones, and universities are testing drones for weather forecasting, agriculture and industrial uses.
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