Drone flying over bushfire grounds RFS aircraft
AN ILLEGAL drone flown over a Northern Rivers bushfire on Saturday caused the Rural Fire Services to ground all aircraft.
Now the incident is being investigated by police and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
The RFS and CASA have criticised the drone flight which they said threatened lives, as the smoky and windy conditions meant pilots who were flying low to support ground crews could have been in danger from a mid-air collision.
It is understood the drone was flown by a Northern Rivers media outlet.
On Saturday the Casino - Yorklea Rural Fire Brigade posted at 13:18 (1:18pm) an urgent request on its Facebook page.
"There have been reports of a person near the Mothersoles Rd fire operating a drone," the post said.
"If any nearby residents come across any persons operating a drone, please phone 000 immediately. Drones pose a dangerous threat to aircraft, and any persons operating a drone near a fireground will force aircraft to cease operations. We will not risk our pilots' lives due to someone else's stupidity, and actions such as these stops us from being able to assist those in need."
CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said the action was illegal and idiotic.
"The collision risk posed by an unauthorised drone could force firefighters to ground water-bombing aircraft, putting lives and property at risk", he said
"If we have evidence of the breach we will look at issuing the relevant penalty which can be an infringement notice from $1000 to $10,0000, or in serious cases we can seek prosecution."
Mr Gibson said anyone who flies a drone over a bushfire is not only stupid, but also hugely disrespectful to the fire-fighters who are there to save lives and property.
"This is a very serious safety issue and frankly, anyone who does it is a complete idiot," he said.
"Everyone needs show respect for those fighting bushfires and putting an unapproved drone up adds a whole other layer of risk."
RFS operations manager Daniel Ainsworth said the he was appalled by the incident.
"We ask all drone owners in the region to respect the work of the RFS in these serious bushfire during fire fighting operations and follow CASA regulations," he said.
Richmond Police District senior constable David Henderson said investigations into the use of the drone were ongoing.
"Police are investigating," he said.
"Please don't use a drone near a helicopter, it's just plain dangerous."