The New York Police Department seized the $1500.00 drone of George Steinmetz, a photojournalist with a 35-year career shooting for National Geographic and The New York Times Magazine, who was trying to take shots of a mass grave being built on Hart Island in a New York City. This took place on Wednesday, April 15th.

According to Steinmetz’ post “ I was cited by NYPD while taking this photo, and my drone was confiscated as evidence, for a court date tentatively scheduled for mid-August.” Steinmetz was able to capture a photo (below) of the burial site prior to the confiscation. 

Photo source: George Steinmetz Instagram Account (@geosteinetz) Preparing for burials of what appear to be more COVID-19 victims this morning on Hart Island, New York City. For over 150 years this island with no public access has been used to bury over a million souls who’s bodies were not claimed for private burial. With the morgues of NYC strained, the pace of burials on Hart Island has increased dramatically. I was cited by NYPD while taking this photo, and my drone was confiscated as evidence, for a court date tentatively scheduled for mid-August. #keepthememorycard

Steinmetz’s was charged with violating a city law know as Avigation that states: “It  shall  be  unlawful  for  any  person avigating  an  aircraft  to take off or land, except in an emergency, at any place within the limits of the city other  than  places  of  landing designated  by the department of transportation or the port of New York authority.” The law basically prohibits drones from taking off and landing from locations other than an airport.

The NYPD said in a statement reported by the Business Insider that it was 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.

Hart Island has been used by the city government for anonymous burials dating back to the 18th Century. But as the death toll from COVID-19 nears 10,000 in New York City and morgues across the city become overwhelmed, the number of burials on Hart Island has jumped to five times higher than usual.

The New York City Department of Corrections, which runs Hart Island, has kept it completely closed to press amid the coronavirus outbreak. The only photos of the site to become public were taken by photojournalists using aerial drones or helicopters.


  1. Use a balloon and camera.

  2. Everything is illegal…

  3. It is NOT classified as an Aircraft. the definition is clear on what a drone is and is NOT. this case is frivoulous and meant to cause fear and distrust. the guy got his drone back actually they have to pay him for his footage also. this article is so misleading and filled with hersay . FAA did not designate the areas to launch in New york City the City did so …. do your research when right lies

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