It’s no secret that ending a drone without permission has its consequences. And as we’ve seen a few times so far, it can even land you in jail. Photographer Chris A. Hughes had this experience when flying a drone in Cuba. Speaking with Chris Hau, he talks about how he ended up imprisoned and how he managed to get out.
The incident happened in Havana, Cuba roughly four years ago. Chris whipped out his drone to take aerial footage of two buildings he liked when a military officer approached him. He started yelling and pointing at the drone, Chris grounded it. But then, more military officers started gathering around him and he knew that he was in trouble.
Cubans allegedly thought Chris and his friend were American spies. They separated them, put them in two cars, and took them to the police station. Chris says that they took his phone so he couldn’t call his family. No one spoke English, and he doesn’t speak Spanish, so it was impossible to understand each other. After more than 12 hours of interrogating and being yelled at, they dropped him to a prison cell. Chris says that he asked the guard how long he would be there, and he just started laughing. It was not a good sign.
Thankfully, after not hearing from him, his wife knew something had happened. So, she contacted the Canadian embassy. He’d spend three days in the cell when a Canadian consulate came to see him and advise him what to do and how to act. Even she didn’t know how long he would stay in prison, and he had all the terrible scenarios in mind. He could be there for years. He may not see his kids grow up. All sorts of gloomy thoughts went through his mind.
Chris adds that he was not allowed out of the cell because there was an investigation ongoing. He tried to be friendly with the guards, and he says that they were kind to him. One of them even snuck him out in the yard one day. In fact, this is where Chris was when he heard someone calling his name. They told him that he was free from all charges and allowed to go. He ended up spending 13 long days in the cell. But if he hadn’t had help from his wife and the Canadian embassy, it could have been much worse.
After he was released, Chris says that the military apologized for taking two weeks to finish the whole process. They removed the video he had filmed but gave him the drone back with the rest of the video he had filmed. And he wasn’t banned from the country or anything like it – they told him that he was welcome to come back to Cuba anytime.
Near the end of the video, Chris encourages viewers to travel. He says that the best experiences come from traveling, and I sure agree with this. However, I must add that you better be prepared for every adventure. If you travel abroad with photo gear, especially a drone, make sure to get acquainted with the local laws and regulations. There are no-drone zones in every country, and in some of them, drones are completely forbidden. If you don’t want to risk your freedom or come home with a thinner wallet, please learn the local drone regulations and act accordingly.