California Highway Patrol officials say it’s unclear what charges might be filed against the operator of a drone that nearly flew into a CHP helicopter last weekend in Martinez but the case could be “closely followed,” given the current lack of clarity in laws governing these incidents.
The incident occurred at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec 5, as the aircraft was searching for a stolen vehicle on state Highway 4 in Martinez and flying roughly 700 to 800 feet above the ground.
The flight crew had to take evasive action to avoid an imminent collision with the drone, which passed by at close range, according to the CHP. The drone was followed to Roux Court, where local police contacted the operator.
According to Officer.com, a Martinez police officer spotted a man carrying a drone into his front yard. The officer interviewed the man, whose name has not been released, and forwarded a report to the CHP. The man was not arrested or cited, but the incident is being investigated by federal and local authorities.
CHP Sgt. Marlon Varin said an incident such as this “could be catastrophic.” He said if a two- or three-pound object were to end up in a helicopter’s tail rotor, this would knock out the pilots’ ability to steer. Even a seagull that struck a helicopter’s bubble window in the South Bay recently caused a significant amount of damage, Varin said. Drones can be much heavier, up to 55 pounds, he added.
Yet it’s clear the drone operator, whose identity has not yet been released, “had no malicious intent,” Varin said. The person’s case has been forwarded to Federal Aviation Administration officials for possible prosecution, Varin said. FAA officials weren’t able to provide any details on potential charges late last week.