A helicopter’s crash landing in South Carolina last week may have been the first drone-related crash of an aircraft in the U.S. Neither the pilot nor the student was injured, though the helicopter’s tail appeared to have significant damage.
A helicopter’s crash landing in South Carolina last week may have been triggered by a civilian drone, which would make it the first drone-related crash of an aircraft in the U.S.
The incident Wednesday involved a student pilot and an instructor, both of whom told investigators that a small drone appeared directly in front of them, according to a Charleston Police Department report. The instructor took over the controls of the Robinson Helicopter R22 and attempted to avoid a collision, and the tail of the helicopter hit a tree or brush, triggering a crash landing.
Neither the pilot nor the student was injured, though the helicopter’s tail appeared to have significant damage, said a person familiar with the incident, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the inquiry publicly.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) didn’t confirm the possible role of the drone. The National Transportation Safety Board is aware of initial reports that a drone may have been involved in the crash and is gathering information on the case, spokesman Chris O’Neil said in an email.
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The accident investigation is the second incident involving a drone in less than a week and comes as aviation groups are demanding tighter regulations on civilian drone use after reports of other possible near collisions involving the devices.
In the U.S., drones are typically restricted to flights within 400 feet of the ground and within sight of the operator. They also are supposed to stay clear of traditional aircraft. But in the thousands of FAA reports of possible drone-safety incidents, many involved apparent illegal flights.
In the Charleston incident, the student was practicing low-altitude hovering in a remote area, according to the police report. As the student and instructor turned the aircraft around to continue the lesson, a small white drone appeared, the instructor told police.
After maneuvering away from the drone, the copter’s tail hit brush or a tree as the instructor attempted to land. The helicopter then fell on its side.
The four-rotor drone appeared to be a model group known as the Phantom, manufactured by SZ DJI Technology of China and one of the most popular in the world, the instructor told police. The drone and its operator weren’t located.
“DJI is trying to learn more about this incident and stands ready to assist investigators,” the company said in a statement. “While we cannot comment on what may have happened here, DJI is the industry leader in developing educational and technological solutions to help drone pilots steer clear of traditional aircraft.”
Authorities in Canada released a report Wednesday on a collision there involving a drone and a small charter plane. The FAA said last week it was trying to confirm whether an air-tour helicopter in Hawaii clipped a drone. The incidents come just days after leading aviation-industry groups urged Congress to tighten regulations on hobbyist drones because of a video apparently showing one flying feet from an airliner near Las Vegas.
The Hawaii incident occurred Feb. 9 over the island of Kauai, according to the FAA. The pilot reported seeing the drone that hit the helicopter and scratches were found on the copter afterward. There was no significant damage and no one was injured, according to the FAA.