Last month, two individuals from Brooklyn, New York were apprehended after authorities accused them of flying a drone over three chemical plants in St. Charles Parish, which was a violation of Louisiana state law.

According to the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, Volodymyr Dorogobid, 38, and Tigran Avetisyan, 39, were charged on February 21 with three counts of unlawful use of an unmanned aircraft system and obstruction of justice.

It is against Louisiana state law to use an unmanned aircraft system to conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information about, or photographically or electronically record a targeted facility without the owner’s prior written consent. A targeted facility according to the law includes:

  •  Petroleum and alumina refineries
  • Chemical and rubber manufacturing facilities
  • Nuclear power electric generation facilities
  • School and school premises as defined by R.S. 14:40.6(B)
  • Critical infrastructure as defined by R.S. 14:61(B)
  • Grain elevators and grain storage facilities

Suspicious drone activity was noted over a Dow Chemical plant

On February 21, the sheriff’s 911 center received a report shortly before noon that a drone had been sighted flying at a low altitude above the Dow Chemical plant in Taft. Law enforcement officials dispatched to the area found a black Kia Sportage parked on the shoulder of Louisiana 3142 (map) with two individuals inside, identified as Dorogobid and Avetisyan.

As per authorities, Avetisyan was present in the front seat of the car, wearing virtual reality goggles, while Dorogobid was seated in the back seat with the controller of the drone.

Upon the deputy’s instruction, the two men landed the drone, and Dorogobid placed it on the Mississippi River batture. The men then went over the levee to collect the drone and came back with a black bag. However, they refused to show the contents of the bag to the deputy.

Afterwards, the investigators discovered that the men had concealed the drone on the batture. As per the records of the Sheriff’s Office, law enforcement officials returned to the area at approximately 7:45 p.m. on the same day and recovered the drone.

Investigation yielded information of flights over other chemical plants

In addition to Dow, investigators determined that the drone had flown over two other chemical plants in the area, Linde Inc. and Air Liquide USA, authorities said.

The investigators of the Sheriff’s Office had the car towed back to their headquarters in Hahnville, where they discovered an empty black bag, the drone’s controller, virtual reality goggles, a computer case, and several suitcases inside, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

During questioning, the investigators found out that Dorogobid had rented the vehicle in Miami intending to return it in Houston. However, the Sheriff’s Office did not reveal whether the men provided any explanation regarding why they were operating the drone over the chemical plants.

The Sheriff’s Office confiscated the equipment and are collaborating with the FBI New Orleans for further investigation into the matter.

According to the court documents, both men were incarcerated in the Nelson Coleman Correctional Center located in Killona. They were subsequently released on a bond of $100,000 each on February 22nd.

Helpful Counter-UAS Resources:

Advisory on the Application of Federal Laws to the Acquisition and Use of Technology to Detect and Mitigate Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Counter-UAS Technology Guide

A Comprehensive Approach to Countering Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Protecting vulnerable targets from terrorist attacks involving UAS

What is Counter-UAS?