Video drone dive-bombs, injures triathlete after operator loses control

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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A drone filming a triathlon in Australia Sunday spun out of control and crashed into a participant, sending her to a hospital with multiple head injuries after the drone operator claimed the unmanned aerial vehicle was hacked.

Raiji Ogden had just begun the running portion of the event when the drone suddenly dropped about 32 feet from the air and struck Ogden in the back of the head, forcing her to fall to the ground. Ogden was treated by paramedics at the scene before being transported to a hospital and receiving three stitches in her head.

“Basically we should all just thank our lucky stars that there [were] no injuries to a child or nobody’s eye got taken out,” Ogden told ABC.

Local videographer Warren Abrams of New Era Photography and Film was reportedly operating the drone below the minimum safety ceiling of about 100 feet when he lost control of the device.

The videographer, who was covering the event, said the video from the drone indicated it did not actually strike Ogden, but startled her and caused her to fall. Ogden refutes that claim, and said multiple eyewitnesses confirmed the drone struck her.

Abrams asserts that someone nearby must have hacked and taken control of the device via a method known as “channel hopping,” which can be executed from a nearby device like a smartphone. The videographer said it was the second time his drone had been commandeered during Sunday’s event.

According to an Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) spokesman, commercially available drones like the one used by Abrams could not be hacked in such a way.

“[But] the simpler ones that you can go down to a store and buy, maybe that is possible given that they’re that much more basic,” spokesman Peter Gibson said. “[It’s] very unlikely they’re going to be used in commercial operations where they’re going to be near people or property.”

Edith Cowan University researcher Dr. Mike Johnstone said such hacking was “potentially possible.”

CASA requires UAV operators to acquire a certification before flying drones. Neither Abrams’ name nor that of his business appears on the authority’s list of 92 commercially certified drone operators.

The Geraldton Triathlon Club, which hosted the event, said the incident should never have occurred, apologized to Ogden, and stated it would be launching a full investigation into the matter.

“A lot of the amateur photographers, amateur aerial cinematographers are flying around places [where] you just shouldn’t be flying these things unless you’re very, very experienced,” Hai Tran, who heads a drone company based in Perth, said.

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