Man charged after drone grounds helicopters

A man has been charged over the use of a drone which grounded eight helicopters involved in fighting a then out-of-control blaze in Wanaka this afternoon.

The large fire broke out on Mt Roy just before 3pm and spread rapidly on the parched hillside overlooking Wanaka. Helicopters carried monsoon buckets between Lake Wanaka and Mt Roy to douse the flames.

But  police said the eight choppers battling the blaze had to be grounded for 15 minutes when the drone was spotted.

A 33-year-old man has since been charged with endangering a transport facility, police said.

Police managed to locate the alleged drone pilot nearby and seized the drone. They arrested the man.

He is due to appear in the Queenstown District Court next Monday.

Wanaka Area Response Manager Senior Sergeant Allan Grindell said flying a drone where helicopters were working was reckless and it was a timely reminder for drone operators to think before they flew.

"Not only did the grounding of the helicopters cost money and valuable time in the efforts to extinguish the blaze, it put the safety and lives of the helicopter pilots at risk,"  Sgt Grindell said.

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