Tennis officials eye security after drone crashes at US Open

September 4, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) A drone crash during a U.S. Open match has tennis officials thinking about whether they can do more to safeguard the sprawling National Tennis Center from such hazards, a spokesman said Friday.

''Obviously, it's something we are looking at'' after an unmanned aircraft plummeted into empty seats and caused a scare during a women's singles match Thursday night, U.S. Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier said.

A high school science teacher who had been flying the drone from a park outside the tennis venue was arrested Friday on reckless endangerment and other charges, police said.

While drones have come too close for comfort to other sporting events, Widmaier said they hadn't been an issue before at the Open, which bans patrons and broadcasters from using them.

But security officials have had drones on their list of concerns as they work to protect the 46.5-acre complex, which includes three stadiums and numerous other courts in the city's Flushing Meadows Corona Park near LaGuardia Airport.

Drone pilots generally must get clearance to fly within 5 miles of a sizeable airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration put drone and model-plane enthusiasts on notice in October that it's illegal to fly the aircraft near Major League Baseball, NFL and NCAA Division I college football games and major auto races.

The move came months after police detained people for using small drones at Carolina Panthers and University of Texas football games. This past June, police questioned a man flying a drone near a gate at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia during a Colorado Rockies-Philadelphia Phillies game.

It's unclear what steps the tennis center might take, Widmaier said.

The drone buzzed diagonally over the court in the 10,000-seat Louis Armstrong Stadium before crashing into the seats and breaking into pieces as 26th-seeded Flavia Pennetta, of Italy, played Monica Niculescu, of Romania. No one was injured.

''A little bit scary, I have to say,'' said Pennetta, who thought the drone might have been a bomb when she heard it fly by. ''With everything going on in the world ... I thought, `OK, it's over.'''

The match was briefly interrupted between points while police and fire department personnel went to look at the broken drone. Pennetta ultimately won, 6-1, 6-4.

Drone pilot Daniel Verley turned himself in. He was released with an appearance ticket for a Sept. 16 court date. There was no immediate answer to phone and Twitter messages for him Friday.

The city Department of Education said it would monitor the criminal case to decide whether to bring disciplinary action against Verley, who has taught for two years at the city's Academy of Innovative Technology.

The New York Police Department said security at the U.S. Open was already tight before the drone episode and would remain so. Widmeier declined to detail security procedures but said ''everyone remains highly vigilant.''

Meanwhile, it was business as usual at the tournament Friday. Some of the 38,580 spectators hadn't even heard about the drone drama.

''That's crazy!'' said Jan Bialostocki, of Gdansk, Poland, who had been watching a different match when the drone crashed.


Associated Press writer Kiley Armstrong and AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.


Follow Jennifer Peltz on Twitter (at)jennpeltz.