The FAA is investigating a helicopter crash in Charleston, South Carolina in which the pilot alleges that evasive maneuvers to avoid a drone caused the accident.
Thankfully, no one was hurt in the crash this past Wednesday. A Robinson R22 owned by Holy City Helicopters was about 50 feet above the treeline with a student practicing "low impact and hover taxi maneuvers" above undeveloped land, when they saw a "DJI Phantom quadcopter" flying across their airspace. The instructor took the controls from the student and attempted to land, but the tail rotor contacted a small tree, eventually causing the aircraft to turn over on its side. A few things to note:
- Manned aircraft may fly below 500 feet over water or sparsely populated areas.
- It's the drone operator's responsibility to see and avoid any manned aircraft.
- Therefore, even if the helicopter was below 500 feet, if a drone was indeed present, it was the operator's responsibility to avoid the helicopter.
As far as I know, this is the first aviation accident alleged to have been directly caused by a drone. Interestingly, a local aerial videography company has accused Holy City Helicopters of fabricating the story to cover up simple pilot error and has further alleged that the company has a history of reckless and illegal behavior. The FAA has indicated they have no comment at this time.
Lead image of Robinson R22 helicopter by Paul Evans, used under Creative Commons.