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Honolulu firefighters warn drone users to keep away from emergency response

APTOPIX Japan Drones
Shizuo Kambayashi/AP
FILE - A Phantom 4, developed by major Chinese consumer-drone maker DJI, flies during its demonstration flight in Tokyo, Thursday, March 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

The Honolulu Fire Department is urging residents not to fly recreational drones near an emergency response scene.

The drones can distract HFD helicopter pilots who typically fly at low altitudes for their operations including hiker rescues and emitting wildfires.

Flying the helicopter while avoiding a midair collision with a drone can delay the HFD’s response.

HFD helicopter pilot Justin Sato recalls a time a drone delayed a rescue, saying, "At Makapuʻu below the lookout, we had a down paraglider run into the cliffs. One of the pilots went up to go extract that patient from the cliffs."

"As he was pulling the patient off of the cliff, he noticed that there was a drone just in front of his flight path, and so he actually had to set the patient back down and wait until that drone cleared out the area. So a very hazardous situation altogether, not only for the pilot and the rescue personnel but also the patient being rescued in that scene," Sato said.

Fire officials say if emergency lights and first responders are on the camera screen, you are too close.

Flying drones in restricted airspace can result in a civil penalty of $37,000 from the Federal Aviation Association.

For laws on drone usage, visit the FAA website.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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