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KIRO-TV News Chopper Chases Down Drone

SEATTLE—A KIRO-TV news chopper team caught a drone buzzing a news-gathering helo shooting for KOMO-TV and KING-TV, according to KIRO’s website. The KIRO team followed the drone to its operator, (pictured at right in a screen grab from the video) who is said to be under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration. KIRO’s chief news shooter, Scott Crueger, estimated that the drone was flying at around 1,500 feet. He said the drone buzzed both helos.

“He went from near our helicopter to very near the other helicopter,” Crueger was quoted saying. “Either helicopter contacting this toy would have been catastrophic.”

The incident occurred March 16 while the helo crews were capturing footage of a salvage yard fire. A KIRO news team was said to have visited the house where they saw the operator take the drone after he’d landed it, but the occupant denied having an unmanned aerial vehicle.

It has not been determined in what way the operator violated FAA rules governing model aircraft, which differ from those in development for commercial use of drones. (See “Non-Pilots Can Fly Drones Under Proposed Rules.”) Drones used in commercial applications, for example, would not be allowed to fly over people not involved in their operation under proposed rules. With recreational drones, flying near people (as this one clearly does at around 2:12 in the clip, pictured left) is not specifically prohibited, yet is subject to FAA enforcement.

To begin with, the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act defines recreational drones as “aircraft” that are”(1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.” Further statutory requirements for model aircraft include operation in accordance with community safety guidelines, weight of no more than 55 pounds, notifying air traffic control if flown within five miles of an airport, and operation “in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to manned aircraft.” Model aircraft that do not adhere to these guidelines are subject to “all existing FAA regulations,” according to the FAA’s “Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.”

The FAA maintains that flying a recreational drone too close to people is covered by its authority to regulate national airspace. Under that statute, any aircraft operating below 500 feet cannot come “closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle or structure.” The KIRO team chased the drone across a significant stretch of residential area before locating the operator. The footage is posted at KIROTV.com.