Right choice made be­tween drones, fans

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

It didn’t get much no­tice, but Ma­jor League Base­ball re­cently an­nounced a de­ci­sion that could save your life at a base­ball game — a de­ci­sion that par­tic­u­larly hit home for me.

MLB of­fi­cials an­nounced that drones — fly­ing mis­siles in the wrong hands — are pro­hib­ited at ball­parks.

It was prompted by a near-tragic ac­ci­dent at Petco Park in San Diego, when a drone nearly crashed into a group of fans at the ball­park.

A drone fly­ing in­side the ball­park crashed into an empty seat in be­tween two fans in the up­per deck.

“This in­ci­dent high­lights the dan­gers posed by unau­tho­rized drone use in prox­im­ity to large pub­lic venues like Petco Park,” Padres Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Erik Gre­up­ner said in a state­ment to Sports Il­lus­trated. “The Padres vo­cally sup­ported the City of San Diego’s re­cently en­acted or­di­nance that en­ables SDPD to en­force the FAA’s re­stric­tions on op­er­at­ing drones near large pub­lic venues.”

Yes, peo­ple op­er­at­ing hand-held fly­ing de­vices near — or in — large pub­lic venues is a dan­ger­ous act. This would seem sort of ob­vi­ous.

Yet one time the New York Jets had a fes­ti­val of fly­ing de­vices at a half­time show at Shea Sta­dium in a game against the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots — and one 20-year-old man died as a re­sult, not far from where I was sit­ting as a spec­ta­tor.

It’s a scene I will never for­get — this young man, John Bowen, a hor­ri­ble, bloody mess be­ing car­ried out of the stands on a stretcher and placed into an am­bu­lance that had come on the field to trans­port him to a lo­cal hos­pi­tal.

Six days later, John Bowen, who had sim­ply come to watch his foot­ball team on a cold Sun­day af­ter­noon in De­cem­ber 1979, was dead.

He died from a fly­ing lawn mower. That may seem funny, but hav­ing wit­nessed it first-hand, there was noth­ing hu­mor­ous about the ac­ci­dent and the re­mark­ably ir­re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sions

that al­lowed it to hap­pen.

Re­port­edly, one of the lo­cal com­men­ta­tors at the Padres game quipped, “Pretty sure the Rus­sians have some­thing to do with this,” but given how close some­one came yet again, decades later, to pos­si­bly dy­ing be­cause of some fool­ish hobby whim, it was chill­ing to re­call what I saw in Shea Sta­dium that af­ter­noon.

It was half­time of the Dec. 9 game — a 4 p.m. start — be­tween the Jets and the Pa­tri­ots. The sanc­tioned half­time en­ter­tain­ment was an ex­hi­bi­tion of ra­dio con­trol fly­ing de­vices by the Elec­tronic Ea­gles of the Ra­dio Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion of Greater New York.

This wasn’t the first time the group had staged such a show for en­ter­tain­ment — with fly­ing model planes in all sorts of shapes and sizes per­form­ing acro­batic acts.

But these de­vices weren’t just fly­ing around on the field — they would some­times buzz the crowd. Sev­eral of them flew di­rectly over us. It seemed po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous, but not lifethreat­en­ing. One fan told The New York Times, “They were send­ing those things right over the crowds. I had an aisle seat near an exit, and I had it in my mind that if it came near me, I would run. It seemed so stupid, so sick, to send this thing over these peo­ple.”

It seemed stupid, pe­riod, to be fly­ing elec­tron­i­cally-con­trolled de­vices in­side a large con­crete sta­dium with 50,000 fans and a large, met­ro­pol­i­tan air­port, with all sorts of sig­nals and waves trans­mit­ting through the air, right next door in the dark of night.

Then the scene that I will never for­get. One of these de­vices was in the shape of a lawn mower. The op­er­a­tor had a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult time get­ting it off the ground. Fi­nally, when it took off, it be­gan fly­ing in and out over the crowd, right near where we were sit­ting. Then sud­denly it made a nose dive into the stands, slam­ming into Bowen and another man, Kevin Rourke, 25, of Lynn, Mas­sachusetts.

The sec­ond half was de­layed as medics re­sponded. Am­bu­lances drove onto the field as we watched the two men placed into the emer­gency ve­hi­cles. Rourke would re­cover, but Bowen died of his se­vere in­juries six days later.

Even­tu­ally, the game re­sumed, as the Jets won, 27-26.

Two years later, The New York Times re­ported a $10 mil­lion law­suit was filed in Fed­eral Dis­trict Court in Brook­lyn. Named as de­fen­dants in the neg­li­gence suit, which was filed by the man’s fa­ther, James, were the New York Jets Foot­ball Club, the Ra­dio Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion of Greater New York and Philip Cush­man, iden­ti­fied in court pa­pers as the owner-op­er­a­tor of the fly­ing de­vice.

The fans sit­ting in the up­per deck at Petco Park should feel very for­tu­nate for the empty seats.

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