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A Helinet Aviation Airbus AS350 B2 AStar that was struck by an object while flying near downtown Los Angeles was likely hit by a drone, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) final report into the incident.
None of the three people on board the helicopter were injured, with the pilot making a precautionary landing soon after hearing what he thought might be a bird striking the aircraft.
The collision happened at 7:15 p.m. on Dec. 4, 2019, as the helicopter was performing an electronic news gathering flight for ABC7 News. Known by the station as Air7 HD, it was flying under visual flight rules (VFR) at about 1,100 feet above mean sea level (830 feet above ground level) within Class G airspace at the time – well above the 400 feet above ground level maximum for small drones.
While a provision in the regulations governing small drone use (14 CFR part 107) does allow for operating them above 400 feet if the drone is within 400 feet of a tall structure, downtown Los Angeles was about ¼ mile away from the collision site.
The regulations also forbid operating drones at night, unless the operator has secured a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to do so.
The Helinet aircraft was moving between story locations at the time of the collision, and was cruising at between 100 and 110 knots. The pilot told the NTSB he didn’t see anything prior to hearing a loud noise as the object hit the aircraft.
The Los Angeles Police Department searched the area around the incident after the helicopter had landed, but couldn’t find a drone.