Man accused of flying drone over Arizona fire, grounding emergency planes

PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. - The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office said it has arrested the suspect who caused firefighting aircraft to be grounded for nearly an hour Wednesday when he flew a drone over the Goodwin Fire.

Detectives with the sheriff’s office said 54-year-old Gene Alan Carpenter, from Prescott Valley, flew his drone into an area where 14 aircraft were flying.

The air attack pilot supervisor for the Goodwin Fire told detectives the drone started to circle one of the planes as he tried to see where it was coming from. The airspace had to be immediately cleared because of the danger the drone posed to the aircraft.

Because the aircraft had to leave the area, ground crews were left unprotected and had to disengage from the fire as well.

Additional reports of a drone operating in the vicinity of the Goodwin Fire were received throughout the week, according to the sheriff’s office.

The first report was on Saturday, June 24 just before 7 p.m., hours after the initial report of the Goodwin Fire. Firefighting aircraft had begun flying within 30 minutes of that initial report. 

A witness told the sheriff’s office a man was seen flying a drone while standing near a white van on East Poland Road near the Mount Union Lookout Tower. The U.S. Forest Service reported seeing a white van and a man flying a drone around the same time.

Another witness reported seeing a man matching Carpenter’s description standing next to a white van on Iron King Mine Road on Tuesday, according to the sheriff’s office. Deputies said the witness saw a drone in the back of the van.

The sheriff’s office said based on witness information, drone descriptions and photos from Carpenter’s website showing drone views of the Goodwin Fire, deputies began searching for him.

Carpenter was arrested Friday afternoon after an off-duty deputy spotted his van on Willow Creek Road in Prescott. The drone was found in the van and seized.

Carpenter remains in custody at the Camp Verde Detention Center, facing charges of endangerment and unlawful operation of an unmanned aircraft. His bond has not yet been set.

Detectives are meeting with federal officials Monday to discuss additional charges based on the federal statutes regarding temporary flight restrictions.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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