Man fined for flying drone over LRT to take footage of trains

Man fined for flying drone over LRT to take footage of trains

Homen Wong
Homen Wong in court on Aug 6, 2019. (Photo: TODAY/Nuria Ling)

SINGAPORE: A man who illegally flew a drone over an LRT station to take videos and photos of trains was fined S$5,000 on Friday (Feb 21).

The 19-year-old full-time national serviceman flew his drone over pedestrian walkways with human traffic and over the train tracks at Sengkang LRT station, before a train crashed into it.

Homen Wong, now 21 and a part-time food delivery rider, pleaded guilty to one count of operating an unmanned aircraft outdoors in a manner likely to endanger the safety of people and property.

A second charge of doing so without a relevant permit was taken into consideration for sentencing.

The court heard that Wong flew a drone on Feb 8, 2018, for about 40 minutes at an open field next to Sengkang LRT station.

He did this without getting the relevant permit from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), which would have required him to comply with safe operating conditions.

These include ensuring that the drone does not interfere with public transport providers and obtaining clearance from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to ensure that the drone's flights did not interfere with RSAF operations.

After flying his drone up to 50m high, Wong flew it over the train tracks to take aerial videos and photos of trains entering and leaving the station.

While it was above the tracks, it became low on battery, and it landed on the tracks, where it was struck by a train.

He approached station staff to retrieve his drone, and managed to get it back. There was no damage to the LRT train nor disruption to train services, said Deputy Public Prosecutors Houston Johannus and Gabriel Choong.

Wong then posted a video of the incident on Youtube. After the video was circulated online, SBS Transit, which operates the Sengkang LRT trains, made a report to CAAS.

The prosecution had asked for a fine of at least S$5,000, saying significant harm could potentially have been caused,with a risk of danger to people and property.

He also risked disrupting train operations and aerodrome operations at Seletar Airport and Paya Lebar Air Base, said the prosecution.

"Alarmingly, the drone had actually been struck by a train, creating the risk of it being punted into commuters and causing injury, or even causing derailment," they said. 

"Combined with the earlier danger posed to pedestrians, the accused’s conduct presented a significantly elevated risk to persons and property."

Defence lawyers Josephus Tan and Cory Wong, who acted pro bono, asked instead for probation, noting that Wong was only 19.5 years old at the time of the offence.

The Invictus Law counsels said Wong had cooperated with LRT staff, police and CAAS and pleaded guilty, demonstrating remorse.

The probation officer had recommended probation in her report, but District Judge Seah Chi-Ling did not go with this option.

He said that while he considered Wong to be a young offender, with a lag before he was charged in court, the case affected public safety.

He said the drone was "clearly not of amateur grade" and was flown for an extended period of time, over pedestrians at a significant height.

He agreed with the prosecution that a fine was appropriate, noting that the drone had landed on tracks and was hit by a train.

Wong's defence lawyers applied to stay the execution of the fine, saying they intend to appeal the sentence.

Wong could have been fined for up to S$20,000 for his offence.

Source: CNA/ll