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11Jul 2019

Drone causes dangerous situation for Columbus Police helicopter, suspect identified

Drone causes dangerous situation for Columbus Police helicopter, suspect identified

Tuesday night on July 9, 2019, a Columbus Police helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing near Forest Park Elementary School. During a routine patrol, the crew spotted a drone flying at night above the legal altitude, flying too close and following the helicopter’s flight path. 

Just before 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, police say one of their choppers was on routine patrol on the city's north side when the pilot spotted a drone. It was 800 feet above the ground, double the altitude allowed by law.

"This one, it was closer, and it followed the flight path of the helicopter and even tried to evade detection from the helicopter by flying underneath," said Lt. Jack Harris with CPD's helicopter unit. "It was prudent to find out was operating this because it was in an unsafe manner."

Harris says the drone essentially played "chicken" with the chopper, flying within about 200 feet of it. Lt. Harris says that was dangerously close, and, because the choppers fly without doors in the summer, the drone could have flown right into the cockpit.

"Every day, when we fly, that’s a question that goes through all of our minds as pilot-in-command — what if somebody’s flying a drone? What if they don’t know how to fly a drone or lose control of the drone? How do we respond?" Lt. Harris said.

In this case, the patrol unit decided to follow the drone and when it landed in the school playground, the chopper landed as well. Officers found the drone and saw a man running from the scene. Using the SIM card and other digital evidence, police officers were able to identify the suspect and charges are pending. According to the Columbus Police Department, the CPD's Homeland Security Division is now investigating the incident.

"We have to be vigilant in our scanning during flying and we have to take evasive action when we can," Lt. Harris said. "If you see a police helicopter or any aircraft that’s at a lower altitude, land the drone."

As the number of drones entering the national airspace increases, the potential for collisions between drones and manned aircraft rises too. In 2018, the FAA investigated a close call involving a drone flying above a commercial airliner near Las Vegas. A routine coast guard training exercise almost turned into a disaster when a drone nearly collided with the coast guard helicopter. In 2017, A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter was not as lucky when a drone struck it near Hoffman Island, New York.

These drone incidents serve as a reminder of the potential dangers drones pose to manned aircraft. In this most recent case, the negligent drone pilot was breaking all sorts of FAA regulations: flying at night, flying above 400ft, and not just flying near any manned aircraft - a police helicopter. Unfortunately for law-abiding drone hobbyist, errant pilots like this give everyone a bad name. 

Even an innocuous drone could cause severe damage to life and property. Too often, facilities and organizations wait until a catastrophic incident happens to procure the technology that could have thwarted and mitigated the threat to begin with. Organizations are starting to see the threat from above and the existing security gap above them.

Drone pilots should always steer clear of manned aircraft and follow FAA regulations. Check out the FAA UAS website for guidelines and resources on where to fly your drone.

Source: TV10 WBNS

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