CRYSTAL LAKE – Kay Pitluck could hardly believe her eyes when a toy drone turned up in her front yard after a patch of big storms in late July.
When Pitluck’s landscaper found the drone outside her Crystal Lake home, across from Main Beach, she thought about the man who had come knocking weeks earlier after accidentally flying his drone over their property and losing it in the trees.
The man had left a business card, but unfortunately it was misplaced.
Now, Pitluck and her husband, retired McHenry County circuit judge Haskell Pitluck, are in possession of a drone they never wanted and have no means of returning to its rightful owner.
“I have actually felt so guilty about it,” Kay Pitluck said. “I’m old; I don’t want a drone.”
Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, have become more common among regular citizens over the past several years as restrictions on ownership and use have changed.
The drone found in the Pitluck’s yard, manufactured by Skyrocket Toys LLC, appears to be one of the remote-controlled Sky Viper models and is colored black and neon green with four propellers and a camera. The ID number is H1216EI.
However, the Federal Aviation Administration’s current system for drone registration makes knowing those details almost worthless when it comes to reuniting the drone with its owner.
Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator, said in a March 27 press conference that more than 770,000 U.S. drone registrations had been filed in about 15 months after making it mandatory to register certain drones starting in December 2015.
Registration data released two months later showed that 87 drones had been registered in Crystal Lake as of May 2016. However, the public data does not disclose owners’ names or include any identifying owner information.
Registration for personal drones, however, stopped being mandatory in March when a Washington, D.C., court ruled the FAA’s drone registration rules were in violation of congressional law. Drones flying for commercial purposes still must be registered.
Most Skyrocket Toys’ drones, such as the one found in the Pitluck’s yard, are sold for less than $100 and do not include built-in GPS trackers, while higher-end civilian drones with built-in trackers cost thousands of dollars.
Unless a GPS tracker has been installed in the device, or comes already built-in, finding the owner can become nearly an impossible task for people who find lost drones.
One of the few options available for people who find drones is turning it into local police as they would for any other form of lost property.
In Crystal Lake, Deputy Chief Derek Hyrkas said police do not regularly receive complaints about drones, and said that he personally has not seen many drones being flown around the city.
Hyrkas also said he cannot remember anyone turning in a drone to the police department.
“If people aren’t sure, if they happen to receive a drone or any piece of property, they can always turn it over to us and we’ll make an effort to turn it over to the owner,” Hyrkas said.
The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office said reports about personal drone activity are infrequent, but local law enforcement also is limited when it comes to regulating drone usage around the county.
Since the FAA sets rules and regulations for drone usage, police cannot regulate a person’s drone usage. Hyrkas said police can look into other state charges if a drone pilot is behaving recklessly with their drone but otherwise have little involvement with drones.
General guidelines for using drones include a number of rules even for nonregistered drones, including flying at or below 400 feet and keeping the drone within sight at all times, according to operating rules published on the FAA website.
Drones are prohibited from being flown over groups of people, schools, hospitals, churches, police stations, stadiums and sports events without consent. They also must not be flown near others aircrafts, within five miles of an airport or while under the influence.
Nevertheless, pilots that obey the rules still can end up losing their drones for a variety of reasons, most commonly resulting from inexperience or a malfunction. And once they are gone, few resources exist to help owners retrieve their lost drones.
The Pitlucks remain hopeful the rightful owner of the drone found in their yard will eventually return and claim his lost drone.
Anyone with information about the owner of the drone can contact the Northwest Herald newsroom at 815-526-4581.