Around noon on Wednesday, the Fresno County, Calif., Sheriff’s Office (FSO) says one of its helicopters came within 20 feet of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) at an altitude of 550 feet.
According to a release from the sheriff’s office, the crew of the FSO helicopter, EAGLE One, was traveling to Shaver Lake to survey snow levels when the pilot saw something in the sky that resembled a bird. As he flew closer, it appeared to be a small airplane, and he maneuvered out of its path and saw the object fly roughly 20 feet over the top of the helicopter’s rotor.
The FSO says the helicopter pilot then elevated to 1,500 feet and orbited the area to look for someone on the ground who was operating the device. After determining the aircraft was a drone, the tactical flight officer located a person below with a remote control, turned on the helicopter’s siren and used the speaker system to call out to the operator. He was then ordered to land the UAS and stay where he was so the crew could contact him.
The helicopter pilot safely landed in an open field, and the air crew, along with a deputy in a patrol car, met with the drone operator and pointed out the dangerous situation he was causing.
The sheriff’s office says it was determined that the operator was taking pictures of the area with his camera-equipped UAS and breaking violations such as flying at an altitude over 400 feet, not maintaining a clear distance from manned aircraft in the area and not having his drone registered through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Deputies are forwarding a report of the incident to the FAA. According to the FSO, it will be up to the agency to determine if a fine or punishment is necessary.