HFD: Civilian drones are delaying care, putting people at risk during rescue operations

Everything from hiker rescues, to brush fires have been affected.
Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 4:42 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 4, 2022 at 4:43 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Federal Aviation Administration is joining forces with first responders to warn civilian drone operators against flying in restricted airspace and interfering with emergency operations.

Officials with the Honolulu Fire Department said Air One has been forced to land or stop doing water drops over brush fires because of rogue drones in the way.

“This becomes a safety hazard for us, the biggest one is mid-air collisions,” said HFD helicopter pilot Justin Sato.

Sato said a paraglider who crashed into the cliffs in Makapuu recently had to wait because the Air One pilot noticed a drone was in the way as the basket with the patient was about to be moved.

“He actually had to set the patient back down until the drone cleared that area.”

Firefighter Michael Mendez, a member of HFD’s drone team, said civilian drone operators are often trying to get video for social media. “I know it can be compelling flying above and around fires and rescues, but it comes with large risks,” he said.

Daniel Puterbaugh, of the FAA, said civil penalties could hit $37,000 for operators who violate the temporary flight restrictions. TFRs, as they’re called, vary in size based on the emergency operations.

It’s difficult to catch the violators but many who have been tracked down said they didn’t know about the restrictions. Puterbaugh said repeat violators have faced penalties.

HFD’s own drone is used to locate hotspots at brush fires.

It’s also been grounded because of unauthorized drones.