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Drone nearly collided with police helicopter above crowded uptown ballpark

CMPD officer describes drone incident

Sgt. Kenneth Anderson spoke at a press conference Thursday concerning the Wednesday night drone incident.
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Sgt. Kenneth Anderson spoke at a press conference Thursday concerning the Wednesday night drone incident.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police are seeking the drone pilot who nearly caused a crash uptown Wednesday with a police helicopter above BB&T Ballpark – which was crowded at the time for a game.

Investigators are asking for the public’s help finding the drone owner, who flew illegally within 20 feet of the helicopter.

“Nearly struck a drone over Uptown at 8:50 pm tonight,” said a tweet sent out by the department. “Anyone w/ info about drone pilot, please call Crime Stoppers.”

Sgt. Kenneth Anderson said the helicopter pilots, who were returning to their hangar after assisting at traffic incidents, had to take evasive maneuvers to get away from the drone.

Details of the drone’s appearance aren’t available yet because the helicopter pilots were flying in the dark and at a high speed – about 100 miles per hour.

The culprit could end up with jail time, not to mention fines.

Police said the drone’s owner broke the law and violated a whole list of Federal Aviation Administration rules by flying at night, flying above 400 feet, flying too close to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, flying over a crowded area and not notifying air traffic control officers about the flight.

It is the second time in two years that the helicopter, named Snoopy, has dodged a collision with a drone.

An incident last year led to the arrest of a 26-year-old Concord man.

In that case, the drone pilot was accused of purposely flying a drone near a CMPD helicopter as it tracked a suspect.

The helicopter pilot had to “immediately and abruptly” alter the helicopter’s flight path to avoid a midair collision with the drone.

Police arrested and charged Christopher Baucom with interference with manned aircraft by unmanned aircraft system and resisting a public officer.

Anderson said police expect encounters with drones to become more common as drones get more popular. Some new technology can keep people safe by keeping the drone grounded in restricted areas, he said, but risks also increase as drones get more powerful.

Anyone with information about Wednesday’s drone incident is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.

Other drone problems

Nationally, pilots, police and citizens report more than 100 drone sightings a month to the Federal Aviation administration, data show.

From January 2016 through September 2016, the most recent data available, they reported more than 1,360 drones, according to federal records.

Twenty-six were reported in North Carolina, including 16 in Charlotte – the most of any city in the Carolinas. Twenty-one drones were reported over South Carolina.

Many of the sightings came from pilots near airport runways.

In one case, on March 12 of last year, Charlotte Douglas International Airport had to stop using a runway because a drone was spotted in the area.

New York City reported the most drone sightings at 75, followed by Los Angeles at 52 and Chicago at 39.

In Chattanooga, Tenn., a pilot reported to the FAA that he was flying at around 8,000 feet when he “was just buzzed by a drone.” The drone passed about 200 feet over the aircraft, records show.

And pilots over Boston, Phoenix and several California cities said a drone came within 100 feet of their planes.

Caroline Metzler and Adam Bell contributed.

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