The Dallas Morning News

Copter crash may be nation’s first caused by drone

Incident follows spate of close calls, growing concern among pilots

- Alan Levin, Bloomberg News

CHARLESTON, S.C. — 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.

Wednesday’s incident 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 report. The instructor took the controls and tried to avoid a collision, and the helicopter’s tail 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, one person said.

The helicopter went down about 2 p.m., according to the Federal Aviation Administra­tion. The FAA didn’t confirm the role of the drone. The National Transporta­tion Safety Board was aware of initial reports that a drone may have been involved and was gathering informatio­n, spokesman Chris O’Neil said.

It was the second incident apparently involving a drone in less than a week and comes as aviation groups are demanding tighter regulation­s on civilian drone use following 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 lowaltitud­e 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 from a model group known as the Phantom, manufactur­ed by SZ DJI Technology Co. 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 earlier last week that it was trying to confirm whether an air-tour helicopter in Hawaii clipped a drone. Aviation-industry groups recently urged Congress to tighten regulation­s on hobbyist drones because of a video apparently showing one flying feet from an airliner near Las Vegas.

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