It's kind of amazing how quickly the quadcopter fad exploded all around the world. Remote-controlled airplanes have been a thing for decades, but all the hobby needed to become a generation-defining fad was a few more rotors and a GoPro.
Drone flying—and filming—has allowed us to explore parts of the world too flimsy for our feet, get angles otherwise impossible, and generally just have a really good time out there. You can even get one to follow you around for high-flying selfies.
But drones are only as agile as the people flying them, and with a lot of little aircraft in the skies it's only a matter of time before things go wrong. In this feature, we'll share the funniest and wildest drone disasters, crashes, and fails of the last few years.
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(Stephanie Mlot contributed to this report.)
Live TV Drone Crash
What's the worst-case scenario for a TV appearance about drone safety? If you answered "crashing the drone," you're probably pretty close. In 2015, Popular Science writer Dave Mosher was on Fox & Friends to talk about the subject of this very article, and he brought a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+copter to fly. In a display of pure cosmic irony, just after Mosher finished talking about how dangerous drones can be in the wrong hands, he lost control of his machine and it careened off camera and bashed into a crew worker, who dove out of the way and almost hit a camera.
Angry Chimp Downs Drone
In a miniature take on King Kong, a drone being flown over the primate habitat at the Royal Burgers' Zoo in the Netherlands found out that chimpanzees value their privacy. The GoPro-carrying quadcopter was capturing footage for an animal TV show when the apes noticed it. They immediately grabbed sticks and started trying to whack it out of the sky. One female climbs a tree and takes aim, bringing it down with a vicious backswing, disabling it. Once it hits the ground, the rest of the chimps scampered over to figure out just what the hell the weird bird was.
Photographer Runs Drone Into Groom's Face
Yes, drones can capture pretty amazing angles for photographers, but that doesn't mean you need to use them for everything. Case in point: when Davey Orgill was hired to film a Utah couple's wedding, they requested that he bring his new DJI Phantom quadcopter along. At the bridal shoot two days before the ceremony, Orgill tracked a wide sweeping shot with the drone, and then decided to bring it back around for a second one just in case. Unfortunately, he didn't plot his course accurately and wound up plowing the Phantom right into the groom's cheek, cutting his face and head. Amazingly, the couple didn't fire him and instead he put the video on YouTube, where it became a viral hit.
Golden Eagle Brings Down Quadcopter
Before man ever dared to touch the sky, the birds had that on lock. And they're not too happy to share it with drones. There have been several incidents of birds of prey going after unmanned aircraft—and the Dutch police are even training eagles to do it on command—but this clip from Norway is one of the wildest. A drone flying over Vest-Agder meets a massive golden eagle, who doesn't take kindly to sharing his hunting space. The huge raptor goes in for the kill, striking the drone at a speed of 200 miles an hour and sending it plummeting to the snowy ground below.
Drone Cuts Off Photographer's Nose
Well, not the whole thing, but it's still bad. The thing with drones is that they're just helicopters, so getting too close is not advisable. In 2014, a "Mobile Mistletoe" drone that was part of a TGI Friday's promotional stunt flew into photographer Georgine Benvenuto's face, clipping off the tip of her nose. The pilot was landing the copter on her hand but claimed that she "flinched" and that's what caused the mishap.
Drone Falls Into Legendary Hot Spring
The Grand Prismatic Spring is one of Yellowstone National Park's most unique attractions. The largest hot spring in the United States, thanks to colorful microorganisms, looks like an earthbound rainbow of vivid hues. And a Dutch tourist nearly ruined it forever. In 2014, Theodorus Van Vliet crashed his drone into the water, defying a ban on unmanned aircraft in the park. Rangers and scientists were worried that attempts to retrieve it would upset the spring's delicate ecosystem, but so would leaving it there. The fact that the water gets up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit makes retrieval difficult. As of press time, the drone is still underwater, but Van Vliet was fined $3,200.
(Image: Brocken Inaglory)
Drone Crashes Through 5th Floor Window, Hits Guy In Head
Having a helicopter crash through your window is something that only happens in action movies, unless you're South African designer and auto racer David Perel. He was sitting in his office writing something up when his window suddenly exploded. When he opened his eyes, Perel found a damaged quadcopter sitting on his laptop keyboard. There was a GoPro camera attached, and once he got the footage off he saw exactly how the bizarre accident happened. The pilots lost control and moved it backwards into his window, which shattered on impact.
Man Barely Saves Drone From Freezing Lake
One thing that's easy to forget watching all these crashes is that drones are expensive. So when Zwier Spanjer took his DJI Phantom out on its maiden voyage, it's no surprise that he put his body on the line to save it. Flying over a park, the drone's battery started to fail, engaging the automatic return function. Unfortunately, Spanjer's craft didn't have enough power to make it all the way and plummeted towards a chilly lake. He dove for it and managed to grab the machine before it hit the water. The whole thing was filmed for posterity by the Phantom's onboard camera.
Drone Crashes on White House Lawn
Plenty of places have banned drone flights for safety and security reasons, so the White House isn't alone. But you can get in a lot more trouble for buzzing to the Oval Office with a quadcopter, as an off-duty government employee found out in January of 2015. After having more than a few drinks, the unnamed man decided to borrow a drone from his friend and take it for a test flight on the lawn of the most powerful man in the world. He lost control of the aircraft and it went down hard. Smartly, the soused pilot quickly called the Secret Service and confessed to everything. But the incident exposed a real flaw in the security surrounding the building, most notably that radar can't accurately detect small, fast-moving objects like drones.
Drone Crashes Into Seattle's Space Needle
Pyro technicians preparing for a New Year's Eve 2016 fireworks display atop Seattle's Space Needle received an unwelcome guest. A drone, capturing footage of the iconic landmark and the city skyline, crashed into the 605-foot tower. The UAV sustained significant damage, while the Needle and all nearby workers were unscathed (if not confused). "It looks like the drone tractor beam we installed on the Space Needle is working," Space Needle CEO Ron Sevart joked to Geekwire, adding that this was the third recovered drone on the property.
At the 2015 US Open in Queens, New York, a drone crashed into the (thankfully empty) stands at a match between Italy's Flavia Pennetta and Monica Niculescu of Romania. No one was injured, and a Brooklyn man ultimately got five days of community service for the mishap.
Drone Crash Compilation
And here's a few more for your viewing pleasure.
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