Activists’ drone shot out of the sky for fourth time

Animal rights activists in Pennsylvania are reporting that hunters have shot down a drone that was recording a shooting event at a private club.

“SHARK,” or SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness, said that they were monitoring a pigeon shoot at the Wing Pointe shooting club in Berks County, Penn., on Sunday, Nov. 18 when their drone was shot out of the sky.

“SHARK used the drone to successfully videotape illegal animal abuse committed at the pigeon shoot for nearly the entire day,” the organization wrote in a press release. “At approximately 3 p.m., a single sharp rifle crack rang out.”

Steve Hindi, SHARK president and pilot of the drone, said in a telephone interview that the live video feed from the drone cut out before SHARK members on the ground heard the shot. After the video feed stopped working, Hindi ordered the plane to return to the launch point, but that equipment was damaged as well.

“As soon as I hit the go home mode, because the GPS and compasses were damaged, it went crazy,” Hindi said. “I flipped off the ‘come home’ mode and went into manual control. It wasn’t working right, but we were able to bring it in for a crash landing anyway.”

“I had more control than I anticipated,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it didn’t just drop out of the sky.”

Photos provided by the animal rights group show the multicopter smoking on the ground, with its lithium polymer battery supply smoldering. Another photo shows the drone’s video camera smashed. The drone, dubbed “Angel,” was a Cinestar 8 octocopter estimated at $4,000.

This wasn’t the first time SHARK has been shot out of the sky. This is the fourth drone that the group has lost while investigating pigeon shootings. One drone landed on club property, and is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.

“It’s becoming a regular occurrence because the police refuse to do anything,” Hindi said.

Hindi said the group has flown at least 10 drone missions, and has flown drones for practice and equipment testing more than a hundred times.

The Philadelphia Enquirer reported that SHARK lobbied the Pennsylvania statehouse in January, seeking legislation that would end pigeon shooting in the state. These hunting events involve capturing or breeding pigeons in cages, and releasing a large number of birds from cages to immediately be shot or wounded by hunters.

Pigeon shooting opponents contend that these events violate animal cruelty laws, and SHARK has used aerial footage obtained from drones to strengthen that argument.

“…the predictable outrage generated by gruesome videos showing captive pigeons getting released from wooden crates, attempting to fly away, only to get blasted within seconds by a shooter who’s apparently only a few yards away, reinforces both the ethical stance and the financial status of animal activists who want to ban not just canned hunting but much of animal agriculture,” read an editorial in the Drovers CattleNetwork, a beef industry news periodical.

Wing Point has not returned a phone call requesting comment on the incident.

SHARK said it will release the on-board footage of the drone as it was being shot within 24 hours. Video of an earlier incident where a drone was shot down over Wing Point was posted in August.

Matthew Schroyer is a drone journalist and founder of DroneJournalism.org. He can be reached at mschroyer@gmail.com, or on Twitter as @matthew_ryan

Update  20/11/12 A video of this shoot down has just been released ed