Updated 1:20 pm, Monday, January 30, 2017
A 55-year-old man was arrested after he flew his drone near a California Highway Patrol helicopter involved in the rescue of a man who had fallen off a cliff in Pacifica, police said Monday.
The drone owner, Gerald Destremps of Pacifica, was arrested Friday night on suspicion of impeding first responders at the scene of an emergency, a misdemeanor, according to police. He has since been released with a citation.
Firefighters and police arrived at the scene around 10:15 p.m., after getting reports that a man had plummeted off a cliff. They lowered a medic to check on his condition, and called in a CHP helicopter crew to assist in the rescue.
Shortly after the CHP crew arrived, first responders noticed the drone hovering near the helicopter, forcing the helicopter crew to suspend the rescue and fly to a higher altitude to avoid to crashing into the drone, officials said.
Police were able to quickly track down the drone operator, Destremps, and arrest him, official said.
Because of the difficulties, firefighters ultimately opted to hoist the man up the cliffside using a basket, without the help of the helicopter, said to Capt. Joe Spanheimer of the Pacifica Police Department. The rescued man, whose name was not released, was transported to a local hospital with moderate injuries, he said.
Spanheimer urged the public to use caution with drones and be aware of relevant regulations.
“They’re fun, sure, but because we’re in the San Francisco International Airport airspace, there are actually very very few spots in Pacifica that you can legally fly a drone,” said Spanheimer.
The rescue operation occurred in the 300 block of Esplanade Avenue, where cliff erosion has been a major problem. An apartment building at the the site was demolished last year because it was crumbling into the ocean. A second condemned apartment building in the same eroding cliff was demolished by the city Monday morning.
Drones have interfered with emergency response efforts in dozens of fires in recent years, including one at Sharp Park in Pacifica in July 2015. Drones have become such a problem, the U.S. Forest Service officials launched an awareness campaign urging people to keep drones grounded near fires, warning hobbyists, “if you fly, we can’t.”
Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed legislation regulating drone usage on at least four occasions, but last year he sign a bill protecting emergency responders from liability should they damage a drone in their work.
Filipa Ioannou is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @obioannoukenobi