A two-foot-long drone apparently flown by a hobbyist crashed on the White House grounds Monday in an extraordinary, if unintended, breach that raised fresh questions about the president’s security — and a growing threat from the sky.
A man later came forward to say he was responsible for the mishap in the middle of the night and hadn’t meant to fly the drone over the complex, officials said. “Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device,” said Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary.
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, were overseas when the quadcopter struck the southeast side of the grounds at about 3 a.m. Daughters Sasha and Malia stayed behind in Washington; it was not known whether they were at the mansion.
Officials believed the intrusion to be the first of its kind on the White House grounds, although not the first in the vicinity.
Low-flying drones like the quadcopter — a craft lifted by four propellers — have become increasingly sophisticated and affordable instruments that authorities worry could also become tools for terrorists or others meaning to do harm.
Police, fire and other emergency vehicles swarmed the White House just after the crash, with several clustered near the southeast entrance to the grounds. The White House was dark and the entire perimeter was on lockdown until around 5 a.m. when those who work there were allowed inside.
After daylight, more than a dozen Secret Service officers fanned out in a search across the White House lawn as snow began to fall. They peered down in the grass and used flashlights to look through the large bushes that line the driveway on the south side of the mansion.
The breach was bound to reinvigorate a long-running public debate about the use of commercial drones in U.S. skies — as well as concerns about White House security. At the urging of the drone industry, the Obama administration is on the verge of proposing rules for drone operations that would replace an existing ban on most commercial flights.
Although remote-controlled airplanes and related toys have been available for decades, the recent proliferation of inexpensive drones has prompted growing fears about potential collisions with traditional aircraft.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com