Drone operators involved in athlete’s injury referred to Director of Public Prosecutions

Drone operators involved in athlete’s injury referred to Director of Public Prosecutions


Ben Grubb

The operators of a drone involved in injuring an athlete in a West Australian triathlon have been referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

The referral means the operators could be prosecuted if the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions decides that there is reasonable evidence to make a case in court.

In early April, Raija Ogden was running in Geraldton’s Endure Batavia Triathlon, about 420 kilometres north of Perth, when she said she was hit on the head by a drone filming participantswhen it crashed. Paramedics were called and a witness said a “river of blood” ran down her face.

“I have lacerations on my head from the drone and the ambulance crew took a piece of propeller from my head,” Mrs Ogden told The West Australian shortly after the incident.

But the drone’s owner, Warren Abrams, of New Era Ag Tech, said that Ogden was simply frightened by the machine and fell to the ground.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority said it would look into the matter and it’s understood the authority concluded its investigation two weeks ago. It’s since referred the issue to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

“CASA’s investigation into the accident involving a remotely piloted aircraft at Geraldton earlier this year has been completed,” a spokesman for the aviation regulator said. “In accordance with Commonwealth guidelines for matters of this nature, a brief of evidence has been forwarded to the Commonwealth [Director of Public Prosecutions] for its consideration as to whether prosecution action should proceed. Decisions of this kind usually take some months.”

It is understood race timing equipment at the triathlon interfered with the operation of the drone and that the operator at the time of the incident was flying the machine too close to people.

According to CASA, drones need to be at least 30 metres away from people. The rules also state a person must not operate a drone in a way that creates a hazard.

Also understood to be at issue is whether the company controlling the drone had the appropriate license to fly it.

It’s understood Mr Abrams had a fixed-wing pilot licence at the time of the incident, but not the type that allows him or his company to operate quadcopter drones for commercial purposes.

Photographs show the drone involved in the incident was a quadcopter.

The incident follows another drone involved in a near miss with a Westpac helicopter at Broadmeadow in Newcastle in March at night. That incident resulted in an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which was unable to identify who was in control of it at the time.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service spokesman Glen Ramplin said the crew originally thought the lights of the drone belonged to a larger aircraft further away.

“We’ve seen quite a few [drones] around but this one was at quite a height,” Mr Ramplin said.

“If you had run into it, it could [have been dangerous].”