Wed, Nov 29, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Dropped leaflets reignite stadium drone debate

AP, SANTA CLARA, California

A northern California man was cited for flying a drone over two NFL games on Sunday and dropping political leaflets, reigniting concerns over remote aircraft at major sports events.

Federal and local laws prohibit flying drones near games and authorities are examining additional ways to prevent the uncrewed aircraft from hovering over crowds of tens of thousands, Santa Clara police Lieutenant Dan Moreno said.

The biggest concern is a drone injuring spectators, Moreno said.

“Those blades are sharp and spinning fast,” he said, adding that authorities are also concerned with terrorists arming drones, although no such attack has been reported in the US.

Police cited Tracy Michael Mapes, 55, with misdemeanor charges and released him after a drone was spotted over Levi’s Stadium as the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks played.

The drone released fliers criticizing television news media during the second quarter of the game, but most of the papers blew out of the stadium, Moreno said.

Leaflets were also dropped over Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, where the Raiders hosted the Denver Broncos. The flights did not disrupt either game.

The US Federal Aviation Administration is investigating, spokesman Ian Gregor said.

The agency banned drones during most major sporting events in 2014 after police detained people for using small drones at Carolina Panthers, University of Texas football games and others, but the ban has not stopped the practice completely.

Earlier this year, a drone crashed into the stands at Petco Park in San Diego during a baseball game, narrowly missing several fans. The operator was not charged, but the mishap prompted MLB officials to review security procedures.

In 2015, a high-school teacher was arrested after he crashed his drone into the stands at the US Open, briefly interrupting play.

Levi Stadium’s surveillance cameras helped detectives track the drone to its operator, Moreno said, adding that Mapes was seen driving away from the stadium and identified by a license plate.

Santa Clara detectives called their counterparts in Oakland in anticipation that Mapes would go there next for the Raiders-Broncos game.

Oakland officers spotted a drone over the coliseum and it dropped the fliers again, Moreno said. Mapes was arrested while leaving in his vehicle.

Mapes told San Francisco’s KGO-TV that he dropped the leaflets in an attempt to disseminate his political beliefs, which he did not discuss in the brief interview.

“I’ve been telling this story for 10 years,” he said.

The Seahawks beat the 49ers 24-13, while Oakland defeated Denver 21-14 on Sunday.

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