A drone that crashed on the White House grounds Monday, causing a brief lockdown, was a two-foot wide remote-controlled quadcopter that is sold in stores, officials said.
According to a Secret Service spokesman, a uniformed division officer stationed on the South Grounds of the complex “heard and observed” the device flying at a low altitude, before it crashed on the southeast side of the 18-acre secure zone around the executive mansion shortly after 3 a.m. Monday. The incident triggered a lockdown of the White House and nearby buildings, as officials scrambled to study the device and ensure it did not pose a threat.
According to Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary, an individual called the agency Monday morning after seeing news reports of the crash to report that they had been in control of the quadcopter. “The individual has been interviewed by Secret Service agents and been fully cooperative,” he said. “Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device. This investigation continues as the Secret Service conducts corroborative interviews, forensic examinations and reviews all other investigative leads.”
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were in India when the incident occurred. It is not clear whether other family members were present.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed that a device had been recovered. “There is a device that has been recovered by the Secret Service at the White House,” he said in a press briefing in New Delhi early Monday. “Early indications are that it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat right now to anybody at the White House.”
The crash follows several high-profile security breaches at the White House that have shaken the Secret Service, including an incident last year when a disturbed man armed with a knife jumped a fence and managed to enter the mansion before being apprehended by officers. Obama subsequently asked the agency’s director to step aside, and her interim replacement has taken steps to reform its top leadership.
Under longstanding Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, no unmanned aerial system may be flown in the 12-13 mile area around Washington Reagan National Airport, which includes airspace over the White House, Pentagon, Naval Observatory and the Central Intelligence Agency.
The proliferation of small drones is posing new challenges not just at sensitive government facilities, but around the country, as cheap systems equipped with cameras pose new privacy concerns and reports of close encounters with private and commercial aircraft rise.
The Secret Service released a photo of the device Monday afternoon, identifying it as a member of the popular DJI Phantom line of quadcopters which retail for several hundred dollars online. It was not immediately clear whether the device was equipped with a camera, or whether it was recording during its flight.