The crew of a Fresno County sheriff’s helicopter reported a near miss with a drone Wednesday afternoon in the Clovis area.
The pilot then landed the helicopter to identify the drone operator.
The incident took place about noon as the Eagle 1 helicopter was heading to the Shaver Lake area at an altitude of 550 feet. Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said as the helicopter was near Temperance and Shepherd avenues, pilot Johnny Reyes spotted what he thought was a large bird in front of the helicopter. Moving closer, Reyes realized that the object was a small aircraft. He swerved and the drone, with a large wingspan, flew over the top of the helicopter, missing it by about 20 feet.
Botti said Reyes took the helicopter to an altitude of about 1,500 feet and circled the area in search of the drone operator, who was spotted near the 1800 block of North Carson Avenue. Reyes landed the helicopter in a large field nearby and called for assistance from a ground unit. The air crew took information from the drone operator, whom Botti said had not registered it with the Federal Aviation Administration and was flying above a 400-foot limit for such aircraft. Botti said the information would be turned over the the FAA, which would determine whether the operator would face sanctions.
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The drone operator, who was contacted at the scene, said he did not want to identify himself to the news media. He said air crew members told him at one point in an interview that the drone had flown within 20 feet of the helicopter. At another point, the air crew said the drone was within 100 feet.
A neighbor of the operator, who also did not want to be identified, said he came out of his home when he heard someone in the helicopter order the drone operator via speaker to stop and not run. The neighbor said the man frequently flies the craft in the area and appeared to be highly competent with it.
Jim Guy: 559-441-6339