Drone in helicopter's path may have caused first UAV-related crash in US

It's only a matter of time before some reckless fool causes a big incident by flying a drone in the path of an actual plane. The FAA has confirmed that a helicopter crashed earlier this week in South Carolina, but the wider story isn't so simple. According to reports, including anonymous sources who have spoken up, a consumer drone may have flown in front of the helicopter, forcing the pilot to make a hasty — and dangerous — maneuver to avoid hitting it.

This could be the first-ever case of a drone resulting in an aircraft crash in the United States, a worrisome first that'll no doubt spur the implementation of stricter rules regarding drone usage. Many individuals have been spotted — and sometimes fined — for flying drones in improper ways, but not all illegal usage is the same.

Drone owners are required by FAA regulations to avoid aircraft and airports, to keep the drone under 400ft, and more. Some places, including select government sites, are also listed as restricted airspace and operating a drone within them could result in a hefty fine or even charges.

The most worrisome illegal use of a drone, though, is one that involves flying near or even at commercial aircraft. A small drone's collision with a large airplane, helicopter, or other aerial vehicle could cause extensive damage; in a worst-case scenario, it could be catastrophic.

According to sources talking with Bloomberg, the South Carolina helicopter crash was the result of a drone appearing directly in front of the aircraft. This reportedly left the pilot and an on-board student with two options: either collide with the drone or quickly try to avoid it. The pilot chose the latter, but in the process hit a tree and experienced a crash landing.

Though both people are said to have escaped without injury, sources leaked that the helicopter itself has extensive damage. The NTSB has confirmed that it is investigating reports that a drone was responsible for the incident, but no officials have made a final statement on the matter.

SOURCE: Bloomberg