Police crash DJI Matrice drone into Poole balcony after losing contact

Police crash DJI Matrice drone into Poole balcony after losing contact

April 8, 2022

Police drone that smashed into side of house ‘could have seriously injured someone’ after officer lost control of 10lb gadget while flying it at 400ft in strong winds before it was found on balcony

  • The DJI Matrice M-210 drone lost power from one battery 24 seconds into flight
  • The 10lb device is powered by two batteries, but one disconnected 
  • Due to the high winds the drone was blown almost 500 metres off course 
  • The drone was forced to auto land and crashed into a first floor balcony 

A police officer lost control of his £5,000 surveillance drone after he launched it in high winds which blew it off course until it smashed into a balcony. 

The DJI Matrice M-210 drone, which weighs 10lbs, was launched by an officer in Poole, Dorset on November 19, 2020. 

According to a report by the Department of Transport’s Air Accident Investigation Branch, the officer lost control of his drone shortly after it took off. 

The report found that one of the drone’s two batteries disconnected 24 seconds after take off, at a height of 266ft leaving the unmanned aircraft (UA) with insufficient power to cope with the high winds. 

The pilot continued his flight and at 48 seconds, at a height of 325ft and 181m south-east of the take off point, the drone issued the first of two high wind alerts.  

At one stage, the drone was drifting away from the pilot at a ground speed of 7mph despite not receiving any control inputs from the officer. In such a situation, the drone is supposed to maintain its position by flying into the wind. However, the AAIB found that the drone was buffeted by winds of up to 39mph and was unable to cope. 

The DJI Matrice M-210 drone, pictured, crashed into a balcony after its pilot lost control while flying in winds which exceeded the device’s capabilities. At one stage, the drone was drifting 

The pilot and his spotter were able to re-establish contact with the drone which crashed into this balcony because the device continued to broadcast its GPS location

By the time the officer realised there was a problem, the drone was being carried away by the wind.

He attempted to recover the drone, even using the emergency Return to Home button, but because of the limited power, the drone was unable to fly against the strong wind.  

The officer and his spotter colleague lost sight of the drone after it drifted more than 500 metres from the take off point. It then lost contact with the remote control system. 

The pilot and the spotter raced to drone’s last known location hoping to re-establish contact with the UA. 

After the drone lost contact with the controller, it attempted to Return to Home but continued to drift away due to the high winds. 

When the drone’s rapidly depleting battery approached 20 per cent, the UA’s Auto Land feature kicked in, which led to the drone crashing into a balcony.  

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch report said the pair found it had smashed into the wall of a house and crashed on a first floor balcony beside a pair of chairs.

The drone’s right leg had snapped at the mounting bracket, three propeller blades had shattered, and one propeller had detached but was located next to it.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch was able to download data from the drone which showed how the drone drifted past the 500 metre limit and almost ended up getting lost in a boating lake

The report concluded: ‘If the balcony had been occupied, people could have been seriously injured by the propeller blades.’

It added: ‘There was no one at the front of the property but there was light foot traffic along the path by the lake, about 30 m from the aircraft’s location.’

The incident happened when the drone was being used in an unspecified Dorset Police operation just before noon on November 19, 2020.

The officer flying it had received a forecast of 24mph winds, but the winds at the operating height of 400ft turned out to be up to 39mph which exceeded the drone’s limit.

He received a ‘strong wind’ warning on his control screen which also showed that one of the two batteries on the drone was rapidly losing power.

The report said: ‘The pilot tried to fly the aircraft back towards him, but it did not appear to be moving any closer.’

The drone began to move away from him, going beyond 500m which had been set as its maximum flight distance.

The report tried in vain to operate a Return To Home (RTH) button to bring the drone back to him automatically, but it did not respond.

He put the drone into an emergency ‘Sport Mode’ to give it maximum power against the headwind without any effect.

DJI drones are popular with police forces as they can be equipped with thermal imaging cameras which can detect suspects attempting to hide in the undergrowth

The report said: ‘At this stage neither the pilot nor the observer could see the aircraft, but they could see it on the moving map heading slowly towards Poole Park boating lake in a south-easterly direction. Both controllers then lost communication with the aircraft.

‘The pilot and observer packed their kit and drove to the last location of the aircraft shown on the map display.

‘When they arrived in the area of the last position, the controllers regained communication with the aircraft and displayed its GPS coordinates.’

The investigation found that the drone had crash landed after it ‘entered an auto-land mode’ due to low battery power.

Investigators later found that one of the drone’s batteries had become disconnected shortly after take off, restricting its power.

They raised concerns that the manufacturer’s warning displayed when the wind limit was exceed was ‘Fly with caution, strong wind’ instead of advising the pilot that the limit had been exceeded and that the drone should be landed as soon as possible.

The report recommended that drone manufacturer DJI should improve warnings on its apps and controllers.

A Dorset Police spokesperson said: ‘Dorset Police co-operated fully with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) throughout its investigation.

‘The drone was deployed in line with manufacturer regulations at the time. Recording the wind speed and direction is one of our pre-flight checks, which all pilots must complete prior to take-off and where this exceeds the manufacturers recommendations, a drone is not deployed as air safety is a priority.

‘Since the incident in November 2020, the team has replaced the type of drones used to an updated model.

‘The aircraft that is now used has a higher wind resistance capability, as well as being able to give the pilot an accurate wind speed and direction during flight, which the previous generation of drone was unable to do.

‘While there were no formal recommendations for the force, a number of learning points were implemented, including ensuring that all pilots have up-to- date training and the introduction of a buddy check system.

‘Also, for operational reasons, we cannot disclose details of the incident. However, while we cannot give further information about the operation, the use of a drone is always subject to a risk assessment taking into consideration the operational requirements and environmental conditions.’

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