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Drones, horns, injuries: UAV tumbles into Virginia bull run crowd

Published time: August 26, 2013 16:59
Edited time: August 26, 2013 18:06
Participants run and dodge bulls in the Great Bull Run in Petersburg, Virginia August 24, 2013. (Reuters / Gary Cameron)

Participants run and dodge bulls in the Great Bull Run in Petersburg, Virginia August 24, 2013. (Reuters / Gary Cameron)

Virginia’s first “Great Bull Run” attracted thousands of spectators – but as they were watching out for horns and hooves, a strike came from the skies, as a drone capturing aerial images dropped on the crowds below, injuring at least four.

The unmanned aircraft dipped briefly and veered sharply left before plummeting into the stands at around 12 pm on Saturday. Some 8,000 people turned up for inaugural event held in Virginia Motorsports Park to watch the thousand-pound bulls sprint after hundreds of adrenaline-seeking participants.

People rushed to the scene of the accident with one person removing the machine from the midst of the crowd where it crashed.

Major W.B. Knott of the Dinwiddie County sheriff’s office told the Washington Post that four or five people suffered minor injuries and had to be treated by Emergency Medical Services personnel at the event, and none of them required hospitalization. One man was hit squarely in the face by the device.

Police have been trying to find out who owns the piece of equipment which measured approximately four feet in diameter and resembled a giant mechanized spider.

Pilotless drone technology has stirred concern for years, being renowned for its stealthy air assaults.

The smaller, personal fliers can be procured for some $300. Towards the end of June, one man was arrested for sending a flying camera drone to snap aerial images of Pretoria hospital, near Johannesburg, in which former South African president Nelson Mandela was dying.

Participants run and dodge bulls in the Great Bull Run in Petersburg, Virginia August 24, 2013. (Reuters / Gary Cameron)

Surveillance drones are already in use by law enforcement officials and can carry on-board live-feed video cameras, infrared cameras and radar. Some cameras are capable of reading milk cartons from as high as 60,000 feet, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

By 2015, commercial entities will be allowed to apply for authorization to use drones.

The Great Bull Run over which the drone was flying to capture footage is modeled after the famous San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain, and has created controversy both for the potential dangers it poses to participants and for possible animal cruelty.

The website for the Virginia event states that appropriate safety measures are taken for the US adaptation, proudly proclaiming that: “In fact, there have been only 15 deaths in the Pamplona running of the bulls in the past 102 years!”

The event as a whole featured live bands, drinking, games and a tomato fight alongside the bull races, of which there were seven. Some 24 beasts took part in the final sprint and 700 runners also participated.

An animal rights organization petitioned the city of Conyers in Georgia on the same day of the event in Virginia about a future festival planned for October. “No matter how cautious the organizers may appear to be, there is no way to ensure that the animals won’t suffer or be injured at these events,” the petition stated.

“After having been loaded on to trucks and herded into an arena filled with thousands of screaming people, the bulls will bolt out of the pen in a state of panic, confusion and terror when the starting gate opens. As they rush through the chute, they can crash into the barriers, fall and break their legs or collide with and injure each other.” 

The petition achieved nearly 1,400 signatures within 72 hours.