Charleston Chopper Crash Blamed On Private Drone

Officials at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are investigating a serious helicopter crash that may have been triggered by a drone Wednesday near the southern tip of Daniel Island, South Carolina, in what could be the first-ever drone-related crash of an aircraft in the United States.

The crash was initially reported on Wednesday by WCSC-TV, a CBS-affiliated television station for the Lowcountry area of South Carolina in the United States that is licensed to Charleston, which obtained a copy of the incident report from the police stating that a Robinson R22 helicopter struck a tree and crash-landed.

The private helicopter instructor told police, he was conducting a training exercise at approximately 3:30 p.m, when the incident occurred on the tip of Daniel Island. His student was practicing “low impact and hover taxi maneuvers” above undeveloped land on the island, as a white “DJI Phantom quad-copter” breached their airspace, the report states. The instructor immediately commandeered all flight controls from the student and attempted to avoid a potentially deadly air collision, that is when the tail rotor of the helicopter struck a tree, triggering a crash landing.

The student told the police they were at a maximum altitude of 50 feet when the quadcopter breached their airspace.

She said when the helicopter’s tail struck the tree, “several pieces of the helicopter hit surrounding brush causing the helicopter to turn on its side when it landed,” reported WCSC. Luckily, neither the pilot nor the student was injured, though the helicopter sustained severe damage.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced Friday it is opening an investigation into the accident, spokesman Chris O’Neil said. “The NTSB is aware of the pilot’s report that he was maneuvering to avoid a drone, but the NTSB has not yet been able to independently verify that information,” O’Neil said in a statement.

Bloomberg quoted a statement from drone maker DJI which said:

“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.

The accident investigation is the second incident involving a drone in less than two weeks. Earlier this month, we reported the FAA is investigating an incident in which someone piloted a racing drone feet from a commercial jetliner on approach to land at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. The video below is quite startling:

According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Michael Huerta said back in March 2017 that more than 777,000 drone registrations have been filed with the agency. Bloomberg notes that the FAA is having trouble monitoring all the consumer drones in the sky.

The FAA in a study based on computerized models last fall concluded that drones would cause more damage than birds of similar size because they contain metal parts. Significant damage to windshields, wings and tail surfaces of aircraft was possible, the study found. The surging number of episodes combined with a regulatory system that makes it difficult to monitor drone flights has alarmed traditional aviation groups.

“The likelihood that a drone will collide with an airline aircraft is increasing,” said a letter to U.S. lawmakers earlier this week from Airlines for America, a trade group representing large carriers, and the Air Line Pilots Association and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the unions that represent pilots and controllers.