PEMBROKE PINES, FLA. (WSVN) - 7Skyforce was forced to avoid a drone that got too close to the helicopter while hovering over the scene of a car that had crashed into a Southwest Miami-Dade gym.
7Skyforce Photographer Ralph Rayburn and pilot Joe Mancino were sent to report on the crash, in the area of Southwest 72nd Street and 157th Avenue, at around noon, Wednesday.
“We had been sent down to South Dade to cover a vehicle that had driven into a YouFit Fitness Health Club,” Rayburn said.
Although a drone is relatively small in size compared to a helicopter, it can still cause a tragedy. Mancino spotted the drone a few minutes before 7News went on air to report the incident.
“We were 3.3 miles north of Tamiami Airport,” Mancino said. “We arrived there roughly three minutes before noon. I saw a drone hovering there looking at me about 75 feet in front of the helicopter.”
Using the helicopter’s built-in camera, Rayburn took video of the drone as it hovered near the aircraft.
“I was able to find it and zoom in on it and follow it for a short period of time before it disappeared,” Rayburn said. “It was clear to us that the operator saw us see him, and that’s when the drone kind of left the area.”
Rayburn and Mancino believe the drone landed somewhere in the area, and law enforcement has started an investigation into the incident.
Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibit drones from flying above 400 feet. At the time of the incident, 7Skyforce was hovering at around 800 feet. A drone also cannot fly within 5 miles of an airport without permission.
Drone sightings forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights at London’s Gatwick Airport over Christmas in 2018. In January 2019, flights were delayed at London-Heathrow after a single drone sighting.
Mancino said a drone hitting a helicopter could prove catastrophic.
“It’s a blatant disregard for the rules,” Mancino said. “This time we were hovering. Most times, we’re in this aircraft going about 140 mph, and if somebody popped one of these in front of me, that plastic windshield is not going to hold up.”
“I don’t even want to think about it,” Rayburn added. “It has two souls on board, two human beings, and we’d like to go home every night.”
The helicopter’s flight ended safely, touching down at North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines later that day.
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