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Laguna Beach man gets 1-year probation for flying drone near gyrocopter, blimp, Coast guard copter

A Laguna Beach man who flew a drone too close to a gyrocopter, a blimp advertising “Shark Week,” and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter received one year of probation in federal court in Santa Ana on Tuesday, Nov. 28.

Alexander Milinovic, 62, was handed the sentence after he agreed to plead guilty to three counts of unsafely operating an unmanned aircraft, all misdemeanors, in July.

U.S. District Judge Fred Slaughter also ordered Milinovic to pay a fine of $7,500 and to perform 120 of community service, said Ciaran McEvoy, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

The incidents with the gyrocopter and the blimp both occurred last year, according to the plea agreement. Milinovic was only charged this past May. That was after he flew his drone near the Coast Guard helicopter in March.

The plea agreement described what happened in each incident: On June 19, 2022, a father and son took off in their gyrocopter from Chino Airport for a Father’s Day flight over the Pacific Ocean. They were flying off of Crescent Bay Beach in Laguna Beach when a small drone suddenly buzzed within 10 to 20 feet of their aircraft.

The gyrocopter was about one and a half miles off the coast and 400 feet in the air when the pilots spotted the drone, prosecutors wrote. With an open cockpit, they were worried the drone could have actually hit either of them. So they made an emergency maneuver to avoid the incoming drone.

The next month, prosecutors said, a pilot on board the Discovery Channel Shark Week blimp was flying over the Pacific near Laguna Beach when Milinovic again flew his drone near the other aircraft.

The blimp pilot said he spotted the drone zipping toward the middle section of the blimp, and he feared it actually hit his aircraft, piercing its outer envelope. The plea agreement did not say whether Milinovic actually hit the blimp with his drone. But the blimp was not forced to enter an emergency landing, as would have been required had the drone damaged it, according to the plea agreement.

Almost one year later, Milinovic flew his same drone near the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.

The Jayhawk rescue helicopter was also flying off the coast from Laguna Beach when the four Coast Guard members on board saw Milinovic’s drone near them.

When the drone came within 200 feet of them, the helicopter pilots “maneuvered the Jayhawk away from the drone, out of concern that the drone would hit their tail rotor.”

Federal Aviation Administration guidelines for drone pilots require them to fly their drones within their line of sight. They must also fly their drones in a way “that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.”

Source: Orange County Register

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