Photographer's drone confiscated while documenting NYC mass graves

George Steinmetz
George Steinmetz

As the death toll from the virus in New York continues to climb, now at 14,000-plus and counting, local authorities have moved to bury some of the dead in mass graves on Hart Island, on land that has been used to bury the anonymous and unclaimed since the late 1800s.

Since the pandemic began, the site has been completely closed off to the media. As reported on, American photographer George Steinmetz, who has shot extensively for National Geographic and The New York Times during his 35-year-career, was approached by plainclothes NYPD officer who confiscated his drone and issued him with a misdemeanour summons for "avigation," a law that dates back to 1948 that prohibits aircraft – including drones – from taking off or landing anywhere in New York City that isn't an airport.

Steinmetz, who has an FAA license to fly a drone, stated: "It makes sense to have a regulation like that for drones if you’re flying in Manhattan, where it's not a safe environment," Steinmetz said. "But I was taking off from the shore of City Island, over the water, to an unpopulated, deserted cemetery." Defending his action, he stated: "These are humans, and they’re basically being treated like they’re toxic waste, like they’re radioactive".

The NYPD claim that they are enforcing city laws preventing unauthorized drone use. "Drones are illegal to fly in New York City except for authorized areas. The areas approved for flying drones are very limited and set by the FAA," an NYPD spokesperson said.

Earlier in April, Associated Press photographer John Minchillo captured several aerial images of the mass grave being dug on Hart Island.


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