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21 Feb 2018 14:15
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  •   Home > News > National

    Tourist loses drone over fire flights

    A Chilean tourist has lost his $1700 drone in court after flying the machine in the vicinity of helicopters fighting a fire near Wanaka earlier this month.


    A Chilean tourist who admitted to illegally flying a drone through a firefighting operation near Wanaka has forfeited his $1700 machine because he couldn't afford the fine.

    Jorge Eduardo Riquelme-Cruz, 33, appeared in Hamilton District Court on Friday after his case was transferred from Queenstown.

    He pleaded guilty to operating an unmanned drone in a manner that caused unnecessary danger to firefighting pilots and their helicopters earlier this month.

    A Department of Conservation ranger in charge of the ground crew estimated the drone came within 50m of two descending helicopters.

    The choppers, which were battling a blaze on Mount Roy, had to be grounded for about 15 minutes which allowed the fire to advance a further five-10 hectares.

    It is believed the grounding cost approximately $8000-$10,000 in lost flying time.

    "You made a deliberate choice to fly your drone putting the pilots in danger of a catastrophic situation which was a bad lapse in judgement," Judge Kim Saunders told Riquelme-Cruz.

    She had initially considered fining him $4000, which he could not afford to pay. A sentence of 200 hours' community work was unenforceable because Riquelme-Cruz's holiday visa expires next week.

    He instead offered to forfeit his $1700 drone to the police as a fine in recognition of the harm done.

    Riquelme-Cruz will fly out of New Zealand next Thursday where he will do volunteer work for Save the Children.


    NZN




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