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Fallen drone knocks Australian out of triathlon

Published time: April 07, 2014 23:13
Reuters/Charles Platiau

Reuters/Charles Platiau

An athlete competing in an Australian triathlon had her race cut short over the weekend when she needed to be hospitalized after being struck in the head with an unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone.

Raija Ogden was competing in Australia’s Endure Batavia Triathlon on Sunday when, upon entering her second lap of the run, a remote-controlled drone helicopter dropped from the sky, hitting her in the head and knocking her off her feet. Ogden - wife of defending champion of the race Courtney Ogden, who wound up finishing second overall - was hospitalized and in stable condition after the incident.

The drone was owned and operated by New Era Photography and Film, a team of local videographers who were covering the event live and using the drone helicopter to film from above the race, according to EverythingGeraldton.com.

“We will be conducting a full investigation of what happened but it looks as though someone has hacked into our system,” New Era owner Warren Abrams told the Australian news outlet.

The race organizers immediately issued a statement declaring they would investigate what caused the drone failure, and discovered less than 24 hours after theb event that New Era Photography was not licensed to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Australian Certified UAV Operators (ACUO) announced Monday that Warren Abrams’ company does not hold the proper certification that would have allowed New Era to use a drone to film the race. ACUO maintained that New Era has admitted to filming races for some time, although the nonprofit organization’s research seems to indicate that New Era might have put civilians at risk.

“The very act of flying a UAV low over the head of members of the public is a direct breach of Part 101 of the Australian Civil Aviation Regulations which clearly mandates a minimum separation of 30 meters,” the watchdog said in a statement.

“The circumstances by which the air vehicle came to be in close proximity with the triathlete and subsequent events culminating in her being physically injured is not acceptable by any standards of professional airmanship.”

Abrams said the device did not strike Ogden, only that it flew too close to her and she became so frightened she fell down. He also said the company does have the government’s permission to fly drones, going as far as giving Everything Geraldton his purported registration number.

The event comes as drone accidents seem to be becoming more common throughout the world. Last week, a UAV controlled by the US military crashed on a roadway near a Pennsylvania elementary school. No one was hurt when the surveillance aircraft went down, but officials told local media that the nearly $150,000 drone was a “total loss” after it was run over by a car.

Still, such events are unlikely to curb a fast-growing drone market. Australia, in particular, is increasing its own reliance on drones, announcing last month that it would spend US$2.7 billion on a fleet of Triton drones that will be used to identify Indonesians, Sri Lankans, and other foreigners who try to enter Australia illegally.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters that the high-tech UAVs will be employed “to secure…ocean resources, including energy resources off northern Australia, and help to protect our borders.”

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