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Australian triathlete injured by falling camera drone

A triathlete competing in Geraldton WA, had to be hospitalised when a drone filming the event crashed into her head.

A triathlete competing at an event in Geraldton, Western Australia, had to be hospitalised when a drone filming the event malfunctioned and crashed into her head.

With drones becoming increasingly more common, people are most concerned with surveillance — but perhaps the flying vehicles present another hazard.

While running for the Endure Batavia Triathlon in Geraldton, Western Australia, Raiji Ogden had to be hospitalised after a UAV filming the event fell 10 metres and hit the back of her head.

According to the drone's operator, Warren Abrams of New Era Ag Tech, who lost control of the drone, the footage shows the drone falling behind Ogden; her injuries, he claims, were caused when she fell over from startlement. However, Ogden said that she definitely felt the drone hit her head, and that witnesses would back her up.

Abrams also claimed that the drone, which is controlled using frequencies in the 2.5 GHz range, had been deliberately hacked by someone channel hopping, a technique used in jamming telecommunications. According to Abrams, the drone was fine during testing, but earlier in the day at the same event, he'd experienced a similar incident.

While this is not outside the realm of possibility, the "hacker" would have had to be relatively close to the drone in order to interrupt the signal, and using a similar controller. And, although Abrams claimed it was possible a smartphone app could be used to jam the signal, that would only be the case if the drone in question operated over the Wi-Fi spectrum.

Whether or not the signal was jammed, however, Abrams is on shaky ground. According to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), "remotely piloted aircraft [are] not to operate closer than 30 metres to people unless otherwise approved", and it is an offence "to operate a remotely piloted aircraft in controlled or restricted airspace without approval or to operate in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, person or property".

The CASA also requires that all commercial drone operators be certified. Neither Abrams nor his company are listed as certified drone operators on the CASA website.

Meanwhile, Ogden will be returning to complete the triathlon. "Basically we should all just thank our lucky stars that there [were] no injuries to a child or nobody's eye got taken out," she told the ABC.