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Investigation into drone over East Harlem explosion

Jim Hoffer investigates.
March 20, 2014 2:52:34 PM PDT
News operations, real estate agencies, and any commercial business are prohibited from using drones.

Yet last week during the gas explosion, an ordinary citizen used his drone to capture video.

There are some who say he risked injury to firefighters below and the FAA confirms they are investigating.

At the height of the emergency response to the deadly gas explosion, a drone was captured hovering over the scene.

Controlling the unmanned aircraft was experienced drone operator Brian Wilson who calls himself a citizen journalist.

The video he shot that day he sold to a photograph agency making this drone flight a commercial operation, and in the eyes of the FAA prohibited.

The agency says when it comes to drones, ''A commercial flight requires a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot, and operating approval. Anyone who wants to fly an aircraft, manned or unmanned, in U.S. airspace needs some level of authorization from the FAA."

"In my opinion, this was not a safe situation to fly," said Matthew Schroyer, of DroneJournalism.org.

Matthew Schroyer who heads the Professional Society of Drone Journalists says it was irresponsible to put a drone over an emergency scene.

"Anything could have gone wrong, even with the most experienced pilot?" asked Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Jim Hoffer.

"Even if you have all your ducks in order and lose that radio contact with the aircraft, the most experienced pilot in the world can't bring it down reliably," Schroyer said.

"Had it crashed, could it have hurt someone?" Hoffer asked.

"Yes, it could have killed someone," Schroyer said.

Last October, on 7online Eyewitness News broke the story of a Brooklyn musician flying a drone over Midtown, losing control of it, and causing it to crash inches from the feet of a commuter.

The story went viral. The NYPD arrested the operator for "reckless endangerment".

During last week's drone incident, the police finally told the drone operator to stop which he did.

A few days later, he wrote about it on his Linked In site saying, "The fact that anyone with a drone could have launched it over a disaster scene regardless of training is indeed disturbing."

"This was an unsafe situation?" Hoffer asked.

"I would agree, I'd agree. I understand he's experienced with drone which is great, but not an ideal environment. The safest pilot in the world may not have been able to prevent the GPS from not working or radio frequency from being jammed," Schroyer said.

The FAA says those using drones commercially face fines.

Recently though, the agency lost a court battle against a drone operator.

The FAA says it will have specific rules on the use of all drones later this year.

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