December 6, 2019

An AIR7 HD helicopter was struck by an object, believed to be a drone, at 1,100 feet over downtown Los Angeles Wednesday night. The chopper had to make a precautionary landing.

At around 7:15 p.m., as the helicopter was flying over the downtown LA area, pilot and reporter Chris Cristi said that he and the crew heard and felt a bang as an object hit the tail of the chopper. ABC7 Eyewitness News reports the incident as the helicopter being struck by a drone, even though that has yet to be proven. The initial photos show significant damage to the AIR7 HD helicopter.

Update: it seems that ABC7 Eyewitness News has changed the title of their news story to: “AIR7 HD struck by suspected drone over downtown LA, makes precautionary landing.”

Update 2: NBC News reports: “Two FAA inspectors examined the helicopter this morning, the FAA said, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) requested that affected parts of the helicopter be removed and sent for analysis. The investigation into the incident is ongoing.”

AIR7 HD helicopter struck by object, believed to be a drone

At around 7:15 p.m. last night, news helicopter AIR7 HD was struck by an object, believed to be a drone, as it was flying at around 1,100 feet over downtown Los Angeles.

Helicopter pilot and reporter Chris Cristi said to ABC7:

We’re flying just east of downtown LA and we heard this pop, a loud bang. We felt it. We heard it. We all looked at each other. Didn’t really know what it was and we just assumed it was a bird because that happens every once in a while. When we got on the ground though, it was a different story.

The severity and type of damage seem to indicate that the AIR7 HD helicopter might have collided with a drone, although based on the news that is currently available, no drone pieces have been found on the helicopter. Nor have we heard of any drone parts having been found on the ground as of yet. The lack of blood and feathers on the helicopter seem to rule out a bird strike.

Over the last few years, we have seen many news stories in which drones were blamed for disrupting air traffic or posing a danger to manned aircraft. As of yet, we have heard of only two confirmed cases in which drones were indeed the culprit, one of which was near Staten Island, New York. We have seen multiple close calls with both helicopters and airplanes, though, and as a result, DJI recently decided to equip all drones weighing more than 250 grams with ADS-B as of January 2020.

However, Cristi points to the possibility of the AIR7 HD helicopter having collided with a drone over downtown LA, as he said the following in his conversation with ABC7’s Veronica Miracle:

My pilot thought he saw a flash and it looks like it might have been the green and red lights from a drone that might have caught the corner of his eye. But he didn’t see it really until we felt it.

He later added:

It was a scary couple of minutes not knowing what happened, but it feels great to be back on the ground.

Looking closely at the damage to the AIR7 HD helicopter, you can see that there’s a hole in the tail wing and even the tail rotor appears damaged.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating the case, but the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has launched its own investigation into the accident. The LAPD has sent a ground crew out to look for any drone evidence on the ground and also tweeted the following:

This could have been a disaster & we are glad everyone is okay. Be a responsible and legal unmanned aircraft operator… know & follow the rules.

In general, drones are not allowed to fly above 400 feet, beyond-line-of-sight (BVLOS) or at nighttime. The AIR7 HD helicopter was reported to be flying at an altitude of 1,100 feet at the time of the collision, which could imply that if it was indeed a drone, the unmanned aircraft might have been operated illegally, as one would need a waiver from the FAA to fly outside of the normal drone rules and regulations that apply to both recreational or commercial drone operations.

ABC7 reports that apart from the FAA rules, the city of Los Angeles passed its own ordinance to regulate drones. The news organization says that it “prohibits flying drones within five miles of an airport, above 400 feet elevation or in a way that interferes with manned aircraft. It also says drones cannot be operated beyond the unassisted line of sight of the operator.”

What do you think about about this possible drone collision? Let us know in the comments below.

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