Lots of people got drones for Christmas and promptly crashed them.

Did You Get and Promptly Crash a Drone on Christmas? You Aren’t Alone.

Did You Get and Promptly Crash a Drone on Christmas? You Aren’t Alone.

The citizen’s guide to the future.
Jan. 3 2018 12:34 PM

Merry Crashmas

Tracking people who crashed, lost, or otherwise abused their new drones over the holidays.

Read the manual next time, Dad.


Stuck in very tall trees, entangled in hair, lost somewhere over an enormous swamp: Drone crashes and mishaps have become as predictable a part of Christmas as colorful lights and inflatable lawn Santas. I first took notice of these darkly hilarious stories of drone mishaps on social media in 2015. I’ve been collecting these holiday drone tales of woe on Twitter ever since, with the #dronecrashmas hashtag.

Back when #dronecrashmas began, I assumed that drones would enjoy a brief and sparkling heyday as the Cool New Toy for a year or so, and then everyone would move onto some other inexpensive and annoying trend. (Remember hoverboards?)


Yet 2017’s DroneCrashmas appeared (from my unscientific observation) as calamity-filled as 2015 and 2016. While I have yet to see official figures on 2017’s drone holiday sales, this is suggests it was a good season for drone manufacturers.

The 2017 DroneCrashmas Tweets fell into a few general themes, which have held true since 2015. Like most great traditions, DroneCrashmas mishaps appear not to change much from year to year.

Drone Dads

Dads are the scourge of DroneCrashmas. I have a few theories about this. Spouses and desperate adult progeny are always searching for Dad Gifts that aren’t cotton socks decorated with poorly stitched golf clubs. A drone is different, fun, something that the family can do together, and is often relatively inexpensive, with many small hobby models retailing for less than $100. Unfortunately for drones and American airspace, dads—in my experience—believe incorrectly that they are eminently competent at all things technological.


A popular gift comes into contact with totally undeserved patriarchal confidence and voila: We see drones smashing into garages, drones wreaking havoc in nursing homes, and drones harassing innocent children. Please provide adult supervision to your dad at all times while he is operating a drone.

Oh God, it’s in my hair, help me

Four swiftly whirling plastic propellers and one full head of hair—that’s a dangerous combination. (I have, I admit, managed to get my own mini-drone stuck in my hair, but at least it wasn’t on Christmas and no one saw me do it). DroneCrashmas Twitter is rife with examples of daughters, wives, grandmas, and innocent pets with uncomfortable drone attachments. Maybe we should just lean into it and make drones a hot new hair accessory, like the ships worn by the noble ladies of Versailles.

The begrudging walkabout


Dad or your doofus brother quickly loses his drone and the entire family is quickly press-ganged into leaving their warm and cozy houses to look for it. Distress ensues. Sometimes the original owner of the drone goes back inside, leaving a parent to continue the long and thankless search. More distress ensues.

Getting the damn thing down: the creative way!

So, you’ve actually found your drone after roughly 40 hours of frozen searching. It’s in a tree. Of course. What do you do? Well, you can try shooting at it with a crossbow. Or a shotgun. You can also try cutting the tree down with an axe or a chainsaw. (Poor tree.)

As a reminder: Don’t drink and drone.


Bring in reinforcements!

Some people actually do call the fire department or the police to get their drone unstuck on Christmas. These people are unfamiliar with what actually constitutes an emergency. Do not do this. As a side note: Anyone who wants to make quick money on Christmas should invest in a large ladder and some clever online advertising.

But at least these people know where their drones are—even if they can’t reach them.

Beautiful yet excruciatingly fleeting memories


A drone lifts into the sky. The family oohs. The gift-receiver and the gift-giver are united in joy, in peace. The drone flies higher, and higher, and higher, and … it’s gone. Forever. Perhaps these drones are just teaching us to appreciate the moment, the things we have right now?

If your family can’t find it, it’s time to turn to the community.

Just help me find it

Check your local Craigslist or the equivalent community site for your area—odds are you’ll see plenty of desperate listings for AWOL drones.


Why did you fly it in there?

People who get Christmas drones often decide that their maiden flight should be inside. In some ways, this is a good idea: A drone flown inside is a lot less likely to end up two counties over, or on the president’s lawn. But drones that are larger than the palm of an average hand can wreck havoc on your interiors. In particular: Please don’t fly in the kitchen. Think of the desserts.

The very ineffective spy

Some people like to tell the entire Internet that they plan to use their drone to spy on or to bother people. These people should seek hobbies that don’t involve stealth.

Animal torment

People sometimes think it is very funny to fly their drone at their dog or cat. Sometimes it is actually very funny, such as when a drone gets taken out by a ferret named “Biggles.” Sometimes, it just makes me very sad, such as when people tweet about terrorizing their innocent animals with a drone in their hair. Please don’t do that.

Actual injuries

DroneCrashmas is indisputably funny, but it’s a lot less so when the crashes involve blood. People often assume that a flying object with four hard and fast-moving propellers can’t hurt them. This isn’t the case, and the injuries get worse the larger the drone is. The danger goes up if the novice drone pilot is foolish enough to try flying a large drone inside a small space, like, say, a conservatory. Luckily, these seem like fairly minor injuries.

While (most) DroneCrashmas stories are hilarious, I’m collecting them for a serious reason. I want people to become more responsible with their drones.

Drone technology is in a strange transition stage. While they are widely available, our society still isn’t very familiar with how they work or how they ought to be responsibly operated. Most of us know the basics of how to operate a car or a mobile phone, but many more people are unfamiliar with the basic dynamics of how drones function—and few people bother to read the manual. That’s why new drone pilots are so often surprised when their drones slam at top speed into the ceiling or vanish into the ether: They assumed that small drones are less complicated to operate than they actually are.

Perhaps this is because far too many people still see consumer drones as toys. They’re unaware that drones are aircraft and are treated as such by the Federal Aviation Administration, and that there are potential legal penalties for irresponsible drone use. They don’t know that immediately flying their drone more than 400 feet into the sky isn’t just a good way to lose it, it’s also against the FAA’s recreational drone use guidelines. While drone companies and national aviation authorities have launched public awareness campaigns, the hapless pilots of DroneCrashmas just don’t seem to be getting the message about their responsibilities when they fly outdoors.

The confusing legal environment surrounding recreational drones doesn’t help. While the United States, the U.K., France, Australia, and many other nations have introduced rules and regulations pertaining to drones, they remain very much in flux. The guidelines are often complex and difficult to understand even for people who work in the drone industry, much less casual pilots who received a drone for Christmas. Making matters worse, aviation authorities, like the FAA often lack the resources or the mandate to effectively locate and penalize rule-breakers. All of these factors—little understanding of how drones work, limited public awareness, and confusing rules—collide during the holidays.

While we may laugh at errant drone pilots who do nothing more serious than bothering their grandmothers or ruining a holiday meal, irresponsible drone use can lead to more serious problems. While small drones have a good safety record (and may not be as dangerous to manned aircraft as we’d previously feared), they are still flying objects capable of causing harm in the air and on the ground. In 2015, a toddler lost an eye to a drone propeller. A few drone pilots have been cited for crashing their drones into people. One drone pilot in Washington struck a woman in the head, triggering a lawsuit and a state investigation. Near misses are more common than they ought to be.

In California and Arizona, firefighters must now regularly contend with unauthorized drone flights over wildfire areas, which endanger manned firefighting aircraft and shave valuable minutes off response times. Some of these drone pilots have been arrested. In the immediate aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes in Texas and Florida, many “flying rubberneckers” used their drones to shoot YouTube video and take photos of the immediate aftermath. Drones haven’t yet been incorporated into the U.S. National Airspace System, which means manned aircraft like search-and-rescue helicopters have no way of knowing whether drones are nearby in a disaster area unless their pilots communicate with relevant controllers and receive airspace authorization from the FAA. That often doesn’t happen, creating new problems in areas that are already experiencing crises.

Novice drone pilots who crash or lose their new toys may also find themselves in for more legal or financial trouble than they bargained for. Some on Twitter expressed surprise (and displeasure) over the FAA’s newly reinstated requirement that all drones weighing over 0.55 pounds be registered through an online portal. New drone users who fail to register could be fined—and while enforcement action by the FAA against errant drone pilots remains rare, it does happen.

Consider the case of the man who accidentally crashed a drone on the White House lawn in 2015, triggering a process that eventually ended in a $5,500 fine. The blurry boundary between commercial drone use and hobby or recreational drone use has also tripped up drone pilots before, such as this case from Minnesota.

Outside of legal ramifications, irresponsible and jerky drone pilots do no favors for the technology’s already dubious public image. While casual drone pilots may not care if new laws make drone ownership more difficult or impossible, the many people who rely on inexpensive drones for their work definitely do, People who are forced to put up with badly behaved drone pilots in their cul-de-sacs may be more likely to support anti-drone legislation, both at the local and federal level. Both hobby and commercial pilots have access to their technology only at the sufferance of the government and the public: It’s a privilege that can and will be taken away if the bad behavior continues.

One way of culling the herd of doofus drone pilots is (gentle) mockery—and that’s the true meaning of DroneCrashmas to me. My perhaps overoptimistic hope is that people who witness the crying children and pissed-off housecats of DroneCrashmas will laugh and read the damn manual before launching a shiny new drone on its maiden flight.

This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, follow us on Twitter and sign up for our weekly newsletter.

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Faine Greenwood is an assistant researcher at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, focusing on how drone technology can be used in humanitarian contexts.