Watch for spy in the sky over Wynberg

David Hill

Watch out, Wynberg residents, a spy in the sky could be watching you.

Far-fetched you might think but Wynberg Chelsea resident Sheila Thompson is more than a little concerned after a drone – a remotely piloted aircraft – invaded the privacy of her home on Friday last week, March 4.

She was sitting having breakfast in the shade of a tree in her garden in Standard Lane at 8.15 that morning. First she heard a high-pitched buzzing noise approaching and then she saw it – a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) flew over the roof of her house and hovered low over her garden.

“It remained hovering there for about five minutes. It was silvery white with a pinky red light on the left and a turquoise blue one on the right,” she said.

“I felt it could be observing me, taking photographs of my property. I waved for it to go away, but it continued to hover low over my property, so I got my camera and took a couple of photos.

“This is an unacceptable invasion of privacy. I want to know who was doing it, where they were doing it from, and why,” she said.

Two days later, on Sunday, she heard the sound of a drone in mid-morning at a different property nearby. Again it went on for several minutes.

Ms Thompson believes it is important to share her rather unnerving experience of being under surveillance by this “eye in the sky” with other Bulletin readers. It may prompt others to come forward.

Now she wants answers. What was the motive for such intrusive behaviour? Could it be sinister or just a misguided someone having

“fun”; criminal elements scouting private property for the prospects of committing a robbery; an unsavoury voyeur who gets satisfaction viewing people in their private gardens; or an overgrown teenager playing with his new “toy”?

Whatever the motive, in this case the pilot/operator was breaking the law.

South African Civil Aviation regulations which came into force in July last year stipulate that drones in private use must be operated on property owned by the operator or on property that the operator has the necessary permission to fly on. Clearly this was not complied with when the offending drone hovered for several minutes over Ms Thompson’s private backyard.

Further requirements are that the remotely piloted aircraft must not: fly closer than 50m from people, buildings and roads; fly more than 500 metres from the pilot (line of sight – visual contact must be maintained with the RPA by the operator); fly more than 120m above the ground, nor within 10km of an aerodrome.

The pilot must observe all statutory requirements relating to liability, privacy and any other laws enforceable by other authorities.

Drones cannot be flown adjacent to or above: a nuclear power plant, prison, police station, crime scene, court of law, or national key points.

Meanwhile police have tested a surveillance drone during a drug bust on the Cape Flats. A drone with an infrared camera was launched and captured all the details of the raid – much cheaper aerial support than a helicopter with the expense of pilot and fuel. The RPA tracked suspects using thermal imaging and this led to arrests. A successful test, according to JP Smith, the City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security.

Drones have been in military use for decades but may well become an increasing problem in Cape Town’s suburbs because retail sales are booming.

Many types of drone for sale are advertised widely on the internet. “Fast catching on as the latest innovation that offer hours of fun” is how one outlet decribes the phenomenon.

The sales pitch goes on to say: “Whether you are starting out or have been flying drones for years – there is a model to suit everyone. Drones are a brilliant way to spend hours outdoors and are a great way to enjoy family fun together.”

So when Junior says he really wants one, how much will Dad have to fork out? A quick Google check reveals that a mini drone costs R600 and a sophisticated top-of-the-range model goes for an eye-watering R35 000.

One website headline declares: “Drones are going to change our lives”. Wynberg, you have been warned…