California news helicopter hit by suspected drone flying at twice legal height

The helicopter, Air7 HD of news station KABC-TV, was struck while flying above downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

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By Sarah Jackson

A news helicopter in California was struck by an unknown object, believed to be a drone, while in flight yesterday.

Air7 HD, the helicopter for Los Angeles news station KABC-TV, was flying over downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday night when it was hit by a suspected drone, leading the pilot to make an early landing.

AIR7 HD was struck midair by an object, believed to be a drone, while flying over downtown Los Angeles on Dec 4, 2019.Courtesy ABC7 LA

The helicopter's pilot, reporter Chris Cristi, heard "a loud bang" when an object struck the helicopter's tail, according to ABC7. Cristi and his fellow passengers initially thought the helicopter had struck a bird.

Although the helicopter's flying ability had not been compromised by the collision, Cristi made a precautionary landing. Back on the ground, they realized a drone had most likely hit them. It reportedly damaged the helicopter's horizontal stabilizer and tail rotor, according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Thursday.

The collision took place approximately 1,100 feet above the ground, the statement said. Model aircraft, including drones, are not permitted to fly more than 400 feet above the ground, according to a Los Angeles ordinance passed in 2015.

"This could have been a disaster & we are glad everyone is okay. Be a responsible and legal unmanned aircraft operator...know & follow the rules," the LAPD Communications Division said in a Tweet on Wednesday night.

The police department sent a helicopter to look for debris around the scene today. Two FAA inspectors examined the helicopter this morning, the FAA said, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) requested that affected parts of the helicopter be removed and sent for analysis. The investigation into the incident is ongoing.