An Orange County man pleaded guilty to federal charges of unsafely operating a drone and flying it dangerously close to several different aircraft, including a United States Coast Guard helicopter in mid-flight, authorities announced Wednesday.
In Nov. 2022, law enforcement was notified of videos posted to the social media platform TikTok of 62-year-old Laguna Beach resident Alexander Milinovic threatening others’ safety with his drone.
The 62-year-old is accused of launching his unmanned craft on June 19, 2022, Father’s Day, within 10-20 feet of an “open-cockpit gyrocopter operated by a boy and his father,” a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated. The drone’s proximity required the boy, who was piloting the gyrocopter, to make an emergency course correction to avoid a collision and crashing into the Pacific Ocean.
A little more than a month later, in July 2022, Milinovic flew his drone to an altitude between 500 and 1,000 feet over the ocean in Laguna Beach very near a Discovery Channel “Shark Week” Blimp.
“The blimp’s pilot estimated the drone to be in line with hitting the blimp and causing him to navigate a life-threatening emergency crash landing,” the release noted.
In March 2023, four members of a U.S. Coast Guard flight crew were flying a rescue helicopter 200-300 feet above sea level in Laguna Beach when Milinovic flew his drone within 200 feet of the aircraft.
“The crew maneuvered the helicopter away from the drone, fearing it would hit their tail rotor and cause the helicopter to crash into the Pacific Ocean,” officials said.
As part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigated the matter with assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The 62-year-old is facing a maximum sentence of one year in federal prison for each incident. Milinovic’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 28.