Helicopter Crash Allegedly Caused by Drone

Helicopter Crash Allegedly Caused by Drone

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.

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17 Comments

Robert Nurse's picture

Would it be safe to fall on the side of manned aircraft? All drone operators lose is a drone. Man aircraft, well, I trust the point is clear.

Leigh Miller's picture

The story does seem...."exact" as though a lawyer was building the case from the ground up (no pun intended). At best this is an accident...At worst it's an attempt to walk away from an incident without taking responsibility.

I think that red one crashed because somebody had attached a smaller helicopter to one of its rotor blades.

michael buehrle's picture

i would imagine the drone pilot could answer the questions. or did the pilots simply overreact and clip a tree ?

Sean Gibson's picture

That's what I'm wondering. My brother came up with a similar story after crashing my moms car in high school; she fell for it too..... me not so much.

Rashad Hurani's picture

I expect a serious disaster to happen soon due to the irresponsible, uncontrolled use of drones. In days, weeks, months...?

Bill Peppas's picture

Maneuvers to avoid an object 1/16th or even less the size of the chopper? Really?

Anthony Cayetano's picture

As a helicopter enthusiast and part time pilot, yes, we must avoid it as it alone hitting any of the blades WILL sustain some damage. Even one as small as the spark.

IIRC, A goose can and did damage a 747 a whiles back. And what? 1/10000th of the size?

Scott Stebner's picture

Yup it’s federal law to avoid all manned vehicles , because, you know, humans ride in helicopters and airplanes :)

Bill Peppas's picture

You didn't get it like I meant it.
I meant the helicopter pilot's side.

Anthony Cayetano I meant that a drone is rather small, if you want to avoid collision with it you don't have to move that much, it's a small object.
The blades are vulnerable ( although there have been plenty of incidents where something hit the blades and even caused some damage, it never was enough to break the heli's, plane's flying capabilities.
And why are we always thinking that the collision was with the blades or the airplane's turbine ( although the second one is a good bird catch ) ?
It could've easily been a heli body to drone crash which would've simply meant "dead drone, chopper scratched".

If there was a drone involved in this case, the drone operator should've been paying more attention, but if there was not and this is a fraudulent attempt by the training school company, let's not blame it on the non-existent drone operator.

Anthony Cayetano's picture

It would sound good on paper, but as a pilot would I assume I know what the drones true path is??? Can I read the drone operator’s mind? Is it prudent for me to assume such is not a risk? Here’s something you need to understand and please understand clearly: a LOT of accidents and deaths involving aircrafts was also caused by assumptions and disregard of possible small risks. Sure, are you willing to test that theory of yours that an unknown drone, maybe flown by some beginner, won’t harm the craft YOU ARE RIDING ON? Are you confident that hitting the rotors rotating at hundred of miles an hour will come out with trivial damage? FYI a 100 MPH hurricane can shoot a twig into solid concrete. So much talk do not make things safer and assumptions are dangerous, deadly dangerous.

Seriously, imagine if all drone operators think like “sheesh, what’s the worse that can happen? It’s just a small drone”? It is so irresponsible. Assuming that it will ONLY hit the body of the craft? Another assumption I’m sure many pilots would laugh at your statement. No. The assumption is dangerous. Safety cannot and MUST NOT be compromised by ignorance. Plain and simple

And yes people, you CAN see a Phantom 4 from a cockpit. Not always, but being aware of your surroundings is crucial to any pilot.

Let’s not influence any other drone operator (I’m a mavic user) to think it’s okay to fly their units close to any aircraft because the worse thing that can happen is a downed drone but with wicked footages. Peace!

Bill Peppas's picture

Neither pilot knows what the other pilot will do...

By the way, in no case and any conceivable way I am supporting flying a drone close to a chopper/plane, I don't know where you got that idea from because I never wrote such a thing.

For me, it would be easier to avoid a chopper/plane if the pilot kept his flight unaltered and straight ( or just hovered upwards or downwards a bit ) than do any kind of "extreme" maneuver ( here we are talking about such extreme maneuvers that they lost control remember ).

A Phantom 4 you can see from the cockpit ( not far away however, I doubt you can see it before it's pretty close anyway ).

A Spark or a Mavic Air ? I highly doubt that you will notice it before it's like 1-2m off your face...

Rolang Grother's picture

Yes, it is hard to believe that he even seen such a small drone. DJI's latest models (Air and Spark) are so small that can fit into your palm http://www.firstquadcopter.com/news/dji-mavic-air-vs-mavic-pro-vs-spark-.... The rotors of the helicopter are so strong that, in my opinion, a little drone can't do any damages to them. DJI's APP also limits the flight height and adopts no fly zones for safer flight.

Oliver Kmia's picture

I would be very careful about this case. There have been many bogus calls about drone and this one could be the perfect reason to excuse pilot (or CFI) error with the insurance. By the way, the R22 is not easy to fly. It was never designed to be a trainer helicopter but a lot of flight school use this aircraft because of its low operating cost. Let's wait for the NTSB report.

Johnny Rico's picture

And how far away was that drone....

Anthony Cayetano's picture

As a drone pilot myself, I hope others become responsible of their actions and be accountable with new laws. Too many idiots in the sky lately, just because they are not ON the drones.

Scott Stebner's picture

I hear ya! I spent a lot of time to get my commercial license and it amazes me what I see people posting on their IG .