Unknown Person With Gun Shoots Down Photographer's Drone

Unknown Person With Gun Shoots Down Photographer's Drone

It's a federal offense to shoot any aircraft, including a drone, which the FAA has made abundantly clear. Nonetheless, Toby Harriman experienced just that this past July 4th, when his drone was shot out of the sky in Aspen, Colorado.

Harriman, an experienced drone pilot, was home in Aspen on Independence Day for work and a family visit. While setting up cameras for fireworks, he decided to show off his new DJI Inspire 1 to some friends via a quick test flight. He notes: "I consider myself a pretty considerate and cautious drone pilot. I try to follow all the rules given for flying, as well as any that exist in a given area."

He launched the drone from a road, flew over a few houses at a reasonably high altitude, and proceeded to frame downtown Aspen while over a field between two houses in a rural area. While in this position, he heard two shots, and his drone fell from the sky. He retrieved as many of the pieces as he could, but avoided confronting the people he suspected had done it as he felt it could be a dangerous situation given the holiday and the likelihood of alcohol being involved. It wasn't until the next morning that he saw a clear bullet hole in the side of the Inspire 1's casing. 

Unfortunately, Harriman was not filming at the time of the incident, though he has contacted both the local sheriff and the FAA already. He notes that while he had the best of intentions, he "probably should have stayed clear of the houses." Nonetheless, an errant bullet in the air is a dangerous thing. Just a few years ago, a young Amish girl was killed by a falling bullet shot from over a mile away not far from where I grew up. Crashing drones and stray bullets are not something to be taken lightly. 

Head over to Resource Magazine for the full interview with Harriman.

All images used with permission of Toby Harriman.

[via Resource Magazine]

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Damn Toby, that's crazy! Losing a drone like that would probably make me very upset, but that's some clear-headed thinking not to confront the person with a gun that thought this would be acceptable.

I realize things pretty fast, and with this situation I knew there was not much to do but go collect my drone and get a timelapse of the fireworks!

So...bad behaviour on all sides. Flying over people's homes is a no-no at least in Canada. Privacy and Safety issues there. Shooting at a drone though...also pretty stupid. Can you imagine the legal headaches if the craft had fallen and killed someone as a result....

This who business will get out of hand fast and result in restrictions which will make it more of a pain to even own a drone.

That's all I could think about. Two stray bullets could have hit someone on way down, and then the drone being the size it is, could have also killed someone and/or damaged some property pretty bad. It's going to be interesting to see where the laws go within the years to come. Where do you draw the line. They don't own the airspace. And we as drone pilots have to be careful about staying under 400 feet, and now homes are going to be pushing us up, leaving us some pretty tight gaps to stay"legal" in. I say this, cause where do you then draw the line on "private property" Pretty much everything is becoming "private" these days.

On this specific flight, I felt I was well in a "comfort" zone. 15 minutes before fireworks on July 4th. Most people out and about having a good time, drinks etc... No intentions for creeping, people everywhere. That's also why i choose to fly away from down town, on the opposite hill from fireworks. I refuse to fly over large crowds like that and in the middle of the fireworks like some do. So trying to be smart about one thing, let me to being slightly over a few homes. And probably drunk idiots playing "shoot the drone" and then realized what they did when they actually hit it. What they did was completely idiotic. What I did, was "legal" but yes, I guess I could have stayed a bit further away. You live and you learn and you fail to succeed.

What are the laws when flying over others private property? I do not condone shooting down drones but you've got to respect privacy.

No laws "yet". I personally felt I wasn't intruding on anyones privacy, but that will be a conversation that will always have two sides.

49 USC § 40103 – Sovereignty and use of airspace
(a) Sovereignty and Public Right of Transit.—
(1) The United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.

Only the FAA may regulate flight.
Only the FAA may create a no-fly-zone

Are there no laws that make it a crime to invade privacy or harass people?

If it's already illegal, then why do you need a new law just because of the method used to deliver the violation? Is it to fuel the fear of personal drones? Is it to justify the paranoia over personal drones?

This could happen...and this prob why ppl shoot at them too.


They sure have a better chance of not crashing when not getting shot at :P

Outside of major US cities, it is very common (and legal) to own a gun, and in some states, legal to shoot a trespasser. I'm not defending the individual who shot this drone, but please understand the mentality of these people here. If you fly a giant mosquito-sounding toy over someone's house, they can shoot it down. Heck, given the strong gun culture in America and the popularity of hunting, shooting drones is actually considered a sport al its own. I believe articles here were written on that very subject.

Alex, where does the FAA specifically define and protect toy drones in the same manner as commercial aircraft? I think the wording here is again selective in order to yield a pro-drone bias.

I've flown a toy drone a few times in Vermont over our family property, and, at times strayed well over neighboring land whose owners are gun owners and hunters. I can tell you honestly that I half-expected it to get shot out of the sky.

The wording is not selective to yield a pro-drone bias; I specifically included the quote in which Harriman mentioned that the decision to fly over the houses was questionable, and if you've read my other articles, you'll see that I constantly advocate safe and responsible operation.

The statute is 18 USC 32, and the FAA specifically equates such an act as criminally equivalent to shooting down a commercial aircraft, making it a federal felony: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johngoglia/2016/04/13/faa-confirms-shooting-...

Alex since your about safety, Just wondering as in Vegas, its pretty much illegal from one end of the strip to the other side due to the airport (class B), hospitals and condo helipads. (although people do fly their drones here under 400 feet, the news had a special stating it was still illegal even with 333 exemptions, its just the FAA hasn't enforced it yet).

So I'm wondering how was Toby able to fly in Aspen as its pretty much a no-fly area due to Airports (within 5.7miles), and Helipads (within 2.3miles of hospital pad, police pad, and ski resort rescue pads). I just looked at google maps ( https://www.google.com/maps/@39.1876349,-106.8620298,12072m/data=!3m1!1e3 ) and that would make almost all of Aspen a no fly area, even for recreational under 400 feet. And since I don't know where he was flying, did he have to get permission to do so in Aspen from the Airport ? Or did he just wing it ?

Just trying to grasp how this whole drone airspace works, so any info would be great. thanks :)

I think your two first statements mean the exact same thing

Oh, it's perfectly legal to own a handgun in NYC. Although the process the NYPD makes you go through is rather tedious.

Believe me, I'm aware of the process. I've gone through it myself. Not to mention the sheer incompetence of the NYPD clerks working in that division. My permit renewal took nearly a year because they kept misplacing my paperwork. It's beyond hopeless.

It doesn't specify what size lots these are, but unless they are at lease an acre-plus, and the drone was flying relatively low, whomever was shooting at the drone was probably shooting at it while it was over their neighbors property unless they were shooting practically vertical. As for flying above houses, assuming it's 200' plus in altitude, a droid is really not seeing anything or bothering anyone.

If I heard my neighbor let rounds fly at something that stupid I'd go next door and give him a legit reason to use his gun.

I suppose this is the result of living in a country where everyone can have a gun in their pocket.

Don't take offence Pete, I was just thinking of how much I would be scared of living in a country where someone who is so sick to shoot a drone down, is anyway allowed to carry a gun: what if you meet him at the pub and act in the way he doesn't like?
I assure you that I do love USA.

So tell me what is ignorant about my comment, don't stop please and explain it to me because I can't see your point.

that's a clever explanation! the ii amendment is just a big cloud of ignorance. thx now i can see the light

you know what? I have read you other sick posts and now I have come to a conclusion too: you're just a stupid man.

As opposed to Italy where everyone can have a politician in their pocket.

I guess we are the same Italy in that respect.

We can't ban guns because if we do what can protect us from the drones?

Pokemon Go are the new drones. ;-)


Bigger drones.

Ultimately, people will do what they feel is right, regardless of laws. Just as there will always be self-important drone users who think they should have the right to fly over and film anything, even people's private property. there will also always be folk who will shoot the drones down because they are protecting their privacy. At least, until one side gets laws passed that make the punishment worse than the crime. It's all a matter of perspective; I believe anyone, who EVER runs a red light should be imprisoned for a minimum of 5 years, regardless of reason or outcome. Guy ran a red light and hit me once, nearly killed me. YMMV.