Birthday surprise backfires when man is cited for landing helicopter in friend's backyard

Florida man cited for landing helicopter in friend's backyard as birthday surprise

A South Florida man thought it would be a cool idea to surprise a friend on her birthday by landing his helicopter in her backyard. Authorities were not amused, and surprised Kfir "Leo" Baranes with a citation. Now, Baranes is fighting the ticket in court, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

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In June, Baranes flew a Robinson R44 Raven II with two passengers to Coral Springs, the newspaper reported. Baranes said he planned to give his friend a quick helicopter ride for her birthday, figuring the single mother's two children would get a kick out of the gesture, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Startled neighbors called police, who called the fire department to shut down the street so Baranes could leave. Coral Springs officials want to fine Baranes $500 for violating a city code that prevents pilots from taking off or landing aircraft away from an airport or heliport, the newspaper reported. 

Baranes is contesting the citation and will appear in a non-jury trial Sept. 19 to plead his case, according to court records filed in Broward County.

According to court records, the property where Baranes landed the helicopter "is not purposely built for aircraft taking off and landing."

Baranes said the Coral Springs neighborhood is not restricted airspace as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration. Since he has a pilot's license, Baranes argued he should be free to take off and land wherever he pleases.

“(Restricted space) has to be on the map,” Baranes told the Sun-Sentinel. “How am I supposed to know a certain area is restricted?

“It’s private property. Why should the city prevent that?”

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen told the newspaper the only restricted airspace in South Florida is over Palm Beach when President Donald Trump is in town.

"There is no FAA regulation that would prohibit the landing, if the pilot had the approval of the property owner and it was a safe operation,” Bergen told the Sun-Sentinel. 

However, Bergen said Baranes would have needed approval from the Florida Department of Transportation to land the helicopter "at an unapproved heliport." 

An FDOT spokesman declined comment to the Sun-Sentinel. Coral Springs City Attorney J.J. Hearn said the restrictions protect the public and would not comment about the pending case, the newspaper reported.

Baranes said he only wanted to say hello "for one minute" when he landed his helicopter, although he returrned later by car, the newspaper reported. He said a Coral Springs police officer kept him outside the home for several hours before he was allowed to leave. 

Baranes insists he was within his rights and hopes to win his case in court..

“I’m a freedom fighter,” Baranes told the Sun-Sentinel. “Thank God we don’t live in Iran or Russia. We live in the United States.”

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