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FBI seeks public's help in finding operator of unmanned aircraft near JFK

The FBI is asking for the public's assistance in helping to find the operator of unmanned aircraft spotted Monday near Kennedy Airport.

A pilot of an Alitalia flight was on the final approach to Runway 31R at about 1:15 p.m. when he spotted the unmanned or remote-controlled aircraft hovering at about 1,750 feet, and about 200 feet from the plane, according to the FBI.

“The FBI is asking anyone with information about the unmanned aircraft or the operator to contact us,” said Special Agent in Charge John Giacalone. “Our paramount concern is the safety of aircraft passengers and crew.”

The pilot reported seeing the aircraft about four to five miles southeast of the airport, which would put it roughly in the area of Atlantic Beach in Nassau County, the FAA said.

In an air traffic control recording provided by, the pilot is heard telling the controller, "We saw a drone, a drone aircraft."

The pilot continued on his path and landed safely. No other pilots reported seeing the aircraft.

It's still not clear if the object was a drone, though a drone could pose a threat despite its small size.

"Even the smallest drone is a substantial weight, and it could easily do damage like ripping off a part of a wing or impacting a cockpit area," said Dan Rose, an aviation expert and attorney specializing in aviation litigation.

Drones are growing in popularity with government agencies and the public. The FAA is preparing a plan to regulate their widespread commercial use by 2015, though Rose wants to see more safety measures along with the increased use.

"All the indications so far is that we're seeing a lot more close calls and near-misses, and not more on the technology of how to avoid these near-misses," said Rose.

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