Federal investigators are investigating a helicopter crash that occurred on Daniel Island (near Charleston, South Carolina) that may have been caused by a drone. The helicopter pilot reported to investigators that he crashed after trying to avoid a drone that came into his flight path. The helicopter was flying in this area for a flight lesson and when the drone appeared in the helicopter’s path, the flight instructor pilot had to make a hard turn about 50 feet above the tree line, nicking brush or a small tree. The helicopter then lost control and fell to its side. No one was hurt in this crash.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is still looking into this accident, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will make the final determination as to the cause of the crash. An NTSB spokesperson 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.” Both the flight instructor pilot and student pilot state that they saw what looked like a DJI Phantom drone –a popular drone model right now.
Daniel Island is outside of the restricted airspace that surrounds Charleston International Airport, but FAA maps show that most of the area where the crash occurred is within a few miles of a helipad indicating that drone pilots should be on the lookout for helicopters in the air. No drone or drone operator have been located at this point.
While the FAA has seen an uptick in close calls between drones and manned aircraft, there has yet to be an actual crash caused by a drone. If investigators confirm the pilots’ accounts, this would be the first drone-caused crash in U.S. history.