Drone narrowly avoid collision with two planes
The type of DJI drone that crashed into spectators at Memorial Day parade Reuters

A DJI Phantom consumer quadcopter drone has crashed and hit two people during a Memorial Day parade held on Monday (25 May) in Massachusetts, US.

The parade was being held in downtown Marblehead, a coastal New England town in Essex County, Massachusetts, when a DJI unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that was being used to record video footage of the parade slammed into a toy shop located at a traffic junction.

According to local TV station WBZ-TV, local resident Scot Yount had been holding his one-year-old daughter Ellery in his arms, but had luckily passed her to his wife a few minutes before he was hit by the drone.

"And then I heard people yell and all of a sudden I felt this clunk on my head and the back of my neck," Yount said. "I realised I just got hit by the thing."

Yount sustained a shallow cut on the back of his neck and another female bystander was also hit by the drone, which ricocheted off her shoulder, but both declined medical treatment.

Drone operator was not charged by local police

The drone operator was among the bystanders watching the parade and he was captured on a bystander's mobile phone camera apologising and recognising that the situation could have been much worse if the baby had been hit by the drone.

The official police report stated that the drone owner was very apologetic, so the police decided not to file any charges against him.

At the moment, civilians in the US do not need to apply for a permit before they can fly their UAV in town, and the Federal Aviation Authority is currently focusing on fast-tracking its license approval process to enable more companies to test out services using drones.

However, the FAA did release proposed rules in February, which state that "small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation", so in theory the drone operator has broken these rules.

Aviation authorities need to work with law enforcement

Similar to the UK, at the moment there is no clear pathway in terms of policing civilian drone misbehaviour in the US.

Unless the drone operator breaks laws not associated with aerospace regulations, such as invasion of privacy or using a drone to scout properties for potential burglaries, the relevant aviation authority in the each country has to be the one to bring the charges against the individual.

In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has taken action against Nigel Wilson, a man who flew a UAV over a number of royal palaces and several Premiere League football grounds, charging him under the Air Navigation Order 2009, which states that aircraft cannot be flown through congested areas without permission.

However, the CAA told IBTimes UK at the SkyTech 2015 drone conference in April that it cannot enforce drone legislation on its own, and needs other parts of the government to step in and do their part, such as the Department of Transport and the police.

The National Counter Terrorism Policing Headquarters announced at a conference in April that the police will soon be taking responsibility for the illegal or irresponsible use of drones away from the CAA.

It is likely that the FAA in the US will need to go down a similar route and enlist more assistance from its country sheriffs and federal state police in order to better police civilian incidents.