A small unmanned helicopter apparently being used for recreational purposes, crashed on the grounds of the White House early Monday morning, but White House officials said it posed no threat.
The small unmanned device was spotted at about 3:08 a.m. by a Secret Service uniformed division officer posted on the south grounds of the White House. The office heard and saw the drone like device flying at a “very low altitude” before crashing on the southeast side of the complex, the service said.
Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are in India, but their daughters Sasha and Malia, did not accompany them and the Secret Service issued an immediate alert and lockdown of the complex until the device was examined and cleared, the service said.
It said an individual called the service at 9:30 a.m., telling investigators that he/she had been in control of the quad copter device that crashed on the grounds. The person was interviewed by Secret Service agents and has been “fully cooperative,” Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said.
He said initial indications are that the incident occurred as a result of recreational use, but that the service is continuing to conduct corroborative interviews, “forensic examinations and reviews all other investigative leads.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama in New Delhi that the Secret Service recovered a "device," though he declined to call it a drone, near the White House.
Quadcopters are unmanned helicopter with four rotors that DroneBuff notes are “popular due to their small size, precision control, agility, power and stability.”
But flying one in the Washington area is off limits, Time noted in 2012, noting that the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks “banned nearly all aviation—including model aviation—from what is known as the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), a roughly 10-nautical mile area centered around Reagan National Airport in Virginia.”
FAA regulations say prohibited areas include Camp David, the National Mall, the White House and the area near Congress.
The flight and crash renews concern about security at the White House, which has been in the news following several dangerous breaches, including an embarrassing September incident in which a man scaled the fence and ran far into the White House through an unlocked front door.
News reports also indicate that a man fired a semiautomatic rifle at the White House while President Barack Obama’s daughter, Sasha, was home in November 2011, and that the president shared an elevator with a security contractor who was carrying a gun during a trip to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta last year.
The Secret Service just announced it was demoting four top-ranking employees.
The incident comes as the popularity of such small aircraft has soared and as the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to issue long-awaited rules concerning their operation. Congress ordered the introduction of new rules in 2012 and the FAA noted last year several incidents involving the reckless use of unmanned model aircraft near airports involving large crowds of people.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer tweeted that the latest incident means the FAA “must get long overdue” federal regulations written. Earlier this month, Schumer charged that clear guidelines for drone owners had been “stuck in federal bureaucracy for far too long” and noted that at least 2 drones had entered Westchester County airspace and had been spotted by pilots and air traffic controllers at airports including JFK and LaGuardia.
He said the FAA had been working on the regulations “for years,” but that an FAA rule was still before the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for review.
The industry, hobby groups and the FAA last month launched an education campaign titled “ Know Before You Fly.”
“The ease of acquiring UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) technology has led to a proliferation of unmanned flights, some of which are authorized and some of which are not,” the campaign said. “When it comes to unauthorized flights, many well-meaning individuals and prospective business operators want to fly and fly safely, but they don’t realize that, just because you can buy a UAS, doesn’t mean you can fly it anywhere, or for any purpose.”
The tips include not flying over “sensitive infrastructure or property,” including power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways and government facilities.
Most of the smaller craft weigh less than 10 pounds, the FAA says and the Washington Post notes that the chances of a commercial drone causing considerable damage to the White House is low: "Literally, a truck with a trebuchet on it would be a more effective delivery platform," Parker Gyokeres of the aerial photography company Propellerheads told the newspaper.