A car thief got away on Saturday when a California Highway Patrol (CHP) helicopter had to veer sharply to avoid a drone in Contra Costa County. The helicopter was tracking a stolen car from the air when the pilot noticed the drone’s red lights, and changed course to prevent a collision. The helicopter than followed the drone to where it landed in Martinez, and contacted police to pick up the drone operator.
The drone operator was a young Chinese exchange student, who had recently purchased the $1,000 drone. The operator was not following basic drone regulations, flying at 700-800 feet instead of staying under the 400 ft altitude limit, and flying the drone out of his own line of site.
While no arrests have been made at this point, CHP officer James Andrews says that they have filed reports with the air traffic control and the FAA for possible prosecution of the operator.
“Missed it by less than 100 feet,” Andrews said in a statement. “The pilot had to make a very drastic, abrupt turn. It was very, very close…He looked outside, saw a red light, and in the time he said to himself, ‘Is that a drone?’ he realized that it was indeed a drone, and it was almost on top of him,” Andrews described.
The FAA says that it received 238 reports from pilots of drones flying in their airspace in 2014, but that 650 incidents have been reported between January 2015 and August 2015.
“The FAA is very concerned with the increasing reports we are getting from pilots about small drones flying near their aircraft,” said FAA Spokesman Ian Gregor. “Some of these are flying thousands of feet up or in busy arrival and departure corridors.”
The expected flood of holiday drones – some estimates say that 1.000.000 drones will be sold this holiday season – has prompted the FAA to up their efforts on drone education. In this case, simply knowing the basic regulations would have avoided the problem.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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