Drone operator investigated for causing 'substantial risk of death' in Space Needle crash

by: Amy Clancy Updated:

No criminal charges have yet been filed, but KIRO 7 has learned the 19-year-old licensed operator who crashed his drone into Seattle’s Space Needle on Dec. 31, 2016, is being investigated by the Seattle Police Department for creating a “substantial risk of death or serious physical injury.”

The video of the drone crashing into the Seattle icon on New Year's Eve Day spread all over the world when it was shared by Space Needle staff on Jan. 11.

On the day of the crash, pyrotechnic workers were setting up the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display.

According to documents filed in King County Superior Court, investigators with the Seattle Police Department believe the pyrotechnic workers --- who were just feet away from the drone when it crashed --- were in danger of "substantial risk of death or serious physical injury" because of the drone operator's actions.

KIRO 7 is not naming the operator because he hasn’t been arrested or charged with a crime.

However, his identity was known immediately, according to Dave Mandapat of the Space Needle, who told KIRO 7 in a January interview that the operator “came looking” for his drone. “He was down below, apparently, with the controller, looking around for his piece of machinery.”

That "machinery" --- a DJI Inspire 1, Model T-601 drone -- is still in an evidence room at the Seattle Police Department.

The documents filed seek access to the drone's memory, including any "deleted or hidden files."

According to investigators, the pyrotechnic workers were wearing safety harnesses, but there was a time during installation where "workers may only have a handhold."  "If hit by a drone at that moment, a worker could lose his/her grip on either the appliance, or their own footing, resulting in an arrested fall and equipment being lost over the side" of the 605-foot icon.

"In addition to possible injuries inflicted from an initial drone impact, the subsequent ‘ground-level fall’ impact and arrest of lanyard could compound injury further," the documents allege.

The drone operator is not cooperating with investigators, according to the SPD’s search warrant.

He has hired a lawyer.