NYPD Helicopter Narrowly Avoids Crashing Into Two Camera Drones

Update: Initial reports that the ‘drones’ flew at the helicopter may not be entirely accurate. Click here to read our followup coverage.


Earlier this week, two drones narrowly avoided a collision with a New York Police Department’s helicopter just over the George Washington Bridge. It took aversion maneuvers by the quick-thinking helicopter pilot to ensure no collision took place. But just because there wasn’t any critical harm done doesn’t mean the individuals behind the reckless drones are getting off free.

According to the NY Post, the NYPD Aviation Unit chopper was taking its usual patrol route when, at approximately 12:15am, the pilot of the helicopter noticed two small UAVs headed in its direction.

The pilot had to change course in an attempt to avoid the two drones, because despite the camera copters weighing only a few pounds a pop, the damage the chopper would’ve sustained from them could’ve been fatal. After changing its course and getting a safe distance away, the helicopter’s pilot follow one of the drones to its landing site and coordinated officers to its location.


The two men behind the drones ended up being Remy Castro and Wilkins Mendosa, both of whom were arrested on the spot.

Arraigned on felony reckless endangerment charges and released without bail, the two don’t seem too phased by the situation. “We were just playing with it.” Mendoza told the NYPost. “[The charges are] crazy.” On top of that, the Post also reports that Castro told the Manhattan Criminal Court that, “[The Drone] is just a toy.”

It only takes a small few to screw it up for everyone and it looks like these two gentlemen may be that ‘small few’ for NYC and the NYPD’s stance on drones. Drones are a continually hot topic that isn’t going to simmer down anytime soon if pilots aren’t responsible.

So, what can we take away from this? Yes, drones may be toys in certain contexts, but they can also be invasive and dangerous. Just be responsible and take proper safety measures so you’re not made an example of.

(via Fstoppers)

  • Mike

    Just a toy, huh. Can you fly a RC airplane legally in such an area? No? What bloody difference is this thing, then?

  • Who Is Matt?

    This is the same defense people use when they aim a high powered lazer pointer at a helicopter or airplane. “We were just playing with it” doesn’t hold up when you’re flying around aircraft.

    I’m all for quadcopters etc. but people should at least use common sense when flying them.

  • Eden Wong

    It’s dumb asses like these two who will get all amateur/recreational drones restricted over public spaces eventually. Idiots.

  • csroc

    This is a considerably different story compared to what I read in an article about this earlier today, I’m curious what the truth is.

  • OverfiendUK

    Throw the book at em.Dick heads.

  • ryfter

    Yea, this is completely moronic. I hope those two get the book thrown at them. There is operating in a responsible way… and this is definitely the opposite of that.

  • overhere2000

    These drones need to be banned. Only duly authorized police or military personnel conducting operations should be allowed to use them. The police should deploy weapons carrying drones capable of targeting these flying menaces and their operators.

  • whoopn

    Near-HIT…a collision is a near-miss…

  • Jigsaw

    Drones don’t need to be banned, but by the looks of it there is no point in leaving them unregulated anymore. People are just too dumb for that. An official license must be put in place that assures drone users will receive proper training and guidelines before they are allowed to use them. It should be almost as strict as an actual pilot’s license, with the same level of consequences, should someone violate safety rules.

  • Skeeter

    Then we also need to license 50cc scooters, bicycles, etc. They’re dangerous too! omg!

  • Skeeter

    Wow…you’re friggin’ crazy. “Only police should have drones because we trust police….always!”

  • Skeeter

    Lasers and drones — in both instances, the stories are almost always totally blown out of proportion. There have been no known aviation accidents due to civilian lasers. It’s not a great thing to do, but the danger is significantly over-stated to the point of being silly. The same is happening to drone toys.

  • Skeeter

    Actually, you can fly either in that location. There’s currently no law saying otherwise.

  • Mike

    > There have been no known aviation accidents due to civilian lasers.

    Nor do we want there to be. Lasers end up being pointed at cockpits during critical phases of flights, when planes are close to the ground. They refract off the cockpit glass and light up the entire cockpit, not only distracting the pilots but the very nature of that monochromatic light, especially green, temporarily disrupts vision. Pilots keep what they call a sterile cockpit during the critical phases of flight of takeoff and landing, not even talking aside from commands and checks, so as to avoid distraction. Mostly all landings are visual and performed manually from a few thousand feet to the ground; the last thing you want is incredibly bright, temporary blinding light screwing with the people bringing a 125 ton machine with hundreds of people on it in gently for a soft touchdown.

  • Ben

    Actually, it is illegal to fly any sort of aircraft where they were flying, including remote controlled and autonomous aircraft. Chapter 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 91.131 clearly sates:

    §91.131 Operations in Class B airspace.

    (a) Operating rules. No person may operate an aircraft within a Class B airspace area except in compliance with §91.129 and the following rules:

    (1) The operator must receive an ATC clearance from the ATC facility having jurisdiction for that area before operating an aircraft in that area.

    The first section of this rule excludes any aircraft from flying inside of Class B airspace without clearance from ATC. Class B airspace extends from the ground, up to 7,000 feet around each of the three major NYC airports.

    Even if the pilots did have clearance from ATC, part 91.131 also requires that all aircraft operating in a Class B have an operating Mode C transponder with altitude reporting, which this aircraft did not have. Additionally, the pilot in command of the aircraft must hold at least a private pilot certificate.

    It used to be that to fly an RC plane you’d have to be a relatively serious hobbiest. To prevent the FAA from shutting down their hobby, serious RC enthusiasts police themselves very strictly to make sure that they aren’t posing any threats to public safety. While the FAA has often turned a blind eye to the operation of RC aircraft due to the limited potential for damage and agreements with RC hobbiest groups, flying an RC aircraft in any congested airspace is illegal. Even a small, light weight RC aircraft can take down a helicopter with human passengers if the pilot of the RC aircraft is flying it in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Now that RC aircraft are becoming much more accessible to the general public, and not just hobbiests, you should expect to see the FAA enforcing these rules much more often to prevent untrained members of the public flying RC aircraft in congested airspace.

  • bob cooley

    Don’t fixed wing (RC) planes operators need to be licensed? It’s been so long since I’ve been near RC’s (my dad flew them when I was a kid).

    I’m not huge on regulating everything, but it seems that its time for some level of governance is due for drones.

  • bob cooley

    Well, its the Post, which is the best journalistic presence in the world to wrap fish in….

  • bob cooley

    Ben, Ben, Ben, Don’t go obfuscating the topic with logic, research and facts – this is the internet! ;)

  • Skeeter

    The current definition is so wide that it also includes paper airplanes… and makes crash investigations necessary for such aircraft. Crash your paper airplane? Gotta get the NTSB involved…. and that’s why it’s all silly. Yes, they were able to fly their toy in that area. You only believe you are informed here.

  • Banan Tarr

    Actually, “near miss” is common language in industry, too. It’s the difference between adverb and adjective.

  • Banan Tarr

    If either of those are on the road with traffic then they should be regulated. I’ve grown tried of cyclists who think the rules don’t apply to them, who take up the lane and travel far under the speed limit in busy traffic. It’s a safety concern.

  • Dave J

    The class B over the GWB only starts at 1300 ft MSL. the Hudson River forms a corridor in which it is possible to fly VFR without a bravo clearance. Also, there are exemptions to the Mode C requirement, for aircraft without engine-driven electrical systems and certified without a transponder.

    What isn’t clear to me is if these are “aircraft” in the sense that Parts 91, 61, etc, would even apply to them. They certainly are not certified, they are not subject to airworthiness requirements, one does not need a pilot certificate to operate one, etc.

    What is clear to me is that the FAA needs to clarify its rules ASAP because reality is getting ahead of them.

  • Pete

    Felony? Give me a break. A felony is generally a crime that was committed with malice or specific intent to cause harm, or at minimum, provide material gain at the expense or willful negligence of others. Murder, assault with a deadly weapon, rape, robbery, burglary, arson, narcotics trafficking, grand theft, repeat offenders, etc. Unless these guys set out specifically to crash a helicopter, I fail to see how they were being any more than just stupid. Slap them with a fine, let them pay their idiot tax, and send them on their way.

    Had this been any other helicopter and not a police helicopter I highly doubt there would be felony charges, and that is the part that really bothers me.

  • Eden Wong

    Please, look up “sarcasm” in the dictionary…

  • Ben

    The corridor only covers the water. There’s very little land around NYC that isn’t covered by a Class B that extends from either the ground or from +500ft. I don’t know where the drone’s landing site was, but unless it took off from a boat, I think it’s unlikely that the RC aircraft was not inside the Class B for at least a portion of its flight.

    Anyway, I completely agree that the FAA needs to update and clarify its regulations. It’s clear from the written regulations and the FAA’s guidance and interpretation of their regulations that FARs do cover RC aircraft, but I don’t have time to sit down and really analyze parts 91 and 61 to see if they specifically cover RC aircraft. I’d be really interested to hear an expert’s analysis on that.

  • Skeeter

    It wasn’t clear that sarcasm was your intent. There actually are ALOT of people who would agree with the statement you made….ALOT :)

  • Eden Wong

    I didn’t make the statement, overhere2000 did.

  • Smarten_Up

    Yes, they are–have you been almost run down by the delivery “bikes” in NYC too?

  • OtterMatt

    I take as my text today chapter 8, verse 5, from the book of “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”. Let’s all read together, shall we?

  • Markthetog

    Told you so.

  • Dustin Williams

    The Chopper pilot may have slightly over reacted. Gain some altitude flow over them the prop wash alone would cause that drone to go hurtling to its demise in the river

  • Darren L

    “evasive maneuver” not “aversion”

    “fazed” not “phased”

    does anyone proofread these articles?

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  • james

    No. How do you expect someone to proof read the work of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typrewriters!

  • Blakael

    With trending articles like “Hooker swigged wine & watched Google exec die on yatch” and “Punch over a dog is caught on tape”, this surely isn’t a tabloid news site!!!

  • Jigsaw

    Yes, they are dangerous, too and in my country 50cc scooters actually require a license. But when you run into a car with your scooter or bicycle it usually just means a dent and harm for yourself. When a drone makes a helicopter crash and burn over a populate neighbourhood it’s a whole different story.

  • Josh Wobbles

    Is Manhattan island Class B? Thought it was or was at one time class E making what they were doing perfectly legal?

  • Josh Wobbles

    FAA have already done this with their new “Interpretation of FAA guidelines” document.

  • Josh Wobbles

    Listening to the ATC chatter, its hard to make out but I do believe I hear the pilot stating he leaving Class B prior to reporting the drone, this leads me to believe that this did in fact happen in class E space and if so then these kids did nothing wrong.

  • Ben

    All of Manhattan is under a Class B. La Guardia’s B covers most of Manhattan from the ground up to 7,000 feet starting at the Intrepid, and ending about 1 mile north of the GWB. Anywhere between 1 mile north of the GWB and the Intrepid is inside the B, even on the ground.

    South of the Intrepid, and north of 1 mile past the GWB, the Class B still covers Manhattan, but begins at 1,500 feet. Below 1,500 feet is Class E.

    Over the Hudson River, where this UAS was flying, the Class B begins at 1,300 feet. The police helicopter reported that the UAS was flying at an altitude of 2,000 feet, so whether over water or land, the UAS was inside of the Class B.

    Yes, it’s the UAS operator’s word against the Police’s. The UAS operators say they were operating at less than 400 feet, but as someone with significant experience flying both model aircraft and full scale aircraft, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people flying higher than 2,000 feet saying that they think they’re around 300 feet. In fact, I was once invited to an event where a few UAS enthusiasts were demonstrating their first person view (FPV) system on an RC plane. The FPV system allows you to put on a pair of glasses with screens in them, and see the live video from the front of the plane as you fly. They said that they thought they were around 400 feet, but when I put the glasses on it was clear, based on my experience as a pilot, that the RC plane was closer to 4,000 or 5,000 feet. In fact, while I had the glasses on, I observed a full scale plane (a Cessna 172) fly by far below the RC plane.

    Regardless of legality, I don’t think what they were doing was particularly dangerous. They were in a relatively quiet area with little air traffic, and they were keeping an eye out for other planes. My point is just that it’s incredibly difficult to judge the altitude of a UAS from the ground, and if you aren’t a pilot, or aren’t a very experienced UAS pilot, it’s very difficult to judge your altitude even when looking at a live video stream from the UAS.

    NYC’s airspace is considered the busiest in the world. Around most airports, you’re unlikely to cause trouble flying a UAS at a reasonably low altitude, but NYC’s Hudson River is very different. The Hudson River is surrounded by the Class B airspace of three of the busiest airports in the world. Because pilots need to fly up and down the Hudson River to avoid going through NY’s airspace, to give tours, or to deliver passengers to heliports in Manhattan, the airspace directly above the water of the Hudson river was made Class E, which is uncontrolled. This area is called the “Exclusion.” Recently, the volume of air traffic over the Hudson and the restrictive size and shape of the Hudson River Exclusion caused multiple accidents, including a helicopter collision, and an accidental crash into an apartment building, the FAA added special rules for flying over the river. This airspace is so congested and complicated that the FAA requires pilots, who have already received significant training, to go through additional training on how to fly safely in the Hudson Exclusion.

    If a pilot wants to fly up or down the river, he or she is required to fly next to the shoreline of the river, on the right side, to avoid head-on collisions. Additionally, planes and helicopters are separated by altitude based on their speed. When moving 140 MPH down a path where you’re restricted to flying directly over a specific line on the ground, and at a specific altitude, things happen very fast, and there’s very little room for error. When flying a plane down the river, full sized helicopters seem to appear suddenly and out of nowhere because of how quickly distances close. Any evasive action you take will put you in another aircraft’s “lane”. Up or down will throw you in between slower or faster traffic, a turn to the left could collide you with other traffic at the same altitude, and a turn to the right puts you in the Class B where the 747s are on final approach.

    The sky is big. Realistically, a single encounter isn’t going to cause an accident, but the reason the rules are so strict is because eventually incidents like this do turn into accidents. For more information on that, look up the “big sky theory”. There’s actually a wikipedia article on it.

    Although it doesn’t happen often, you still hear about planes or helicopters colliding with each other in flight. Two notable collisions include: 2009 – a helicopter and small plane collided over the Hudson in NYC and in 2006 – Gol Trsnportes Aereos Flight 1907 collides with a private jet over the Amazon, the winglet of the private jet slicing half the Boeing 737’s left wing off. In the most congested airspace in the world, the chances of a collision increase significantly. Throw in an untrained pilot flying, and the fact that the pilot has very little situational awareness, as in they can’t just turn their head to look around for other aircraft), and your chances of a collision increase dramatically.

    The regulations are strict for a reason. I think it’s incredibly important that the regulations adapt to allow UASs to fly safely alongside full sized aircraft, and the FAA is working hard to make that happen. That doesn’t mean that you’re in the right, legally or ethically, if you go ahead and fly your UAS in congested airspace.

  • Josh Wobbles

    Well without knowing the specifics of the craft that was flown, and without knowing if the photos being paired with this story are stock or the actual craft, it looks like a DJI phantom which I have flown before, and these things are incredibly hard to see any further than 600-700 feet because they are white and only about 18-20 inches wide, so I think the idea of the reported 2000ft is probably bs. This is assuming quite a bit though IE no FPV, model of quadcopter etc. But listening to the ATC it sounds like the pilot cleared class B airspace so assuming this was in E or G I don’t really see any evidence of these guys (hobbyists) doing anything wrong.

  • Ben

    As I said, it’s the NYPD pilot’s word against the UAS pilot’s. As an experienced pilot with experience flying UAS, I’d take the word of the actual pilot over an amateur. I was assuming that the UAS had FPV, which would allow the pilots to fly it out of sight, but you’re right, we don’t know that for a fact. I personally believe the helicopter pilot’s report, but that’s just my opinion based on what it’s like to see another aircraft from the sky. Even if he is incorrect about the aircraft being at 2,000 feet, it’s hard to believe that his estimate of the UAS’s altitude would be off by 1,600 feet, enough to make this flight below the 400 foot maximum set by the FAA.

    However, as I mentioned in a previous post, unless they took off from a boat, they almost definitely flew inside the Class B. The Class B reaches the ground for almost all of Manhattan. The only part of Manhattan that is not covered by the Class B is the southern tip, which is not where these pilots were flying.

    Regardless of whether they were in Class B or Class E, as I mentioned before, the Hudson River Exclusion is a Special Flight Rules area. Although the airspace is uncontrolled, the FAA requires that pilots flying in the Hudson River Exclusion complete training and follow special procedures to ensure safe flight. Unless these UAS pilots are also FAA licensed pilots, which they are not, according the FAA public record, it’s incredibly unlikely that they have been trained for flight in the exclusion.

    For this to have been legal, they would have had to take off from a boat to avoid the Class B, never fly above 1,300/1,500 feet, have completed the special training required to fly in the exclusion, and followed exclusion procedures. Sure, we can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume all of that happened, but the reports of the incident make it sound like that wasn’t the case.

  • Ben

    I wouldn’t go by the ATC chatter on this. I don’t know if you’re a pilot, but things that jump out at me about this are:

    1. The UAS could have been above the helicopter or over land while the helicopter was over water. In NYC’s airspace, the UAS wouldn’t have to be much higher than the helicopter to be in the Class B, and it would be easy for a helicopter in the Class E exclusion to see a UAS over land. This airspace is so dense that, in aviation terms, it’s entirely possible for a near-miss to occur with one aircraft in the Class E and one in the Class B.

    2. NYC’s airspace is carefully monitored by ATC via incredibly accurate radar. When a pilot says that they’re leaving the Class B, they don’t literally mean that they’re crossing the airspace limits. It means that their current plan is to leave the Class B. A pilot could say that they’re leaving the Class B just after their wheels leave the runway, then not actually be outside the Class B for another 10 minutes. ATC has radar good enough to tell when you’ve left the B, they don’t need a pilot’s report on that. What the radar can’t tell ATC is whether the pilot intends to stay in the B or intends to make his or her way out of the airspace.

  • Josh Wobbles

    I’m almost certain I heard the pilot clear out of class B space though on the ATC recording, its hard to make out though.

  • Ben

    I’ve just listened to the recording.

    The pilot says he’d like to enter the Harlem River, then go southbound. The air traffic controller says “Proceed as requested, leaving Class B, radar services terminated, frequency change is approved.” 12 seconds later the police helicopter radios that he sees the UAS.

    ATC’s transmission gave the helicopter a clearance to proceed as requested and change frequencies. Because the helicopter’s request was to leave the Class B, and ATC knew exactly where he was planning on going, ATC allowed the helicopter to change frequencies. That does not mean that the helicopter had already left the Class B. “leaving Class B” can mean that he is about to leave the Class B, and if the helicopter is close enough to the edge of the B, a frequency change can be made before he actually leaves.

    In 12 seconds it’s entirely possible that he was still inside the Class B, making his way out of the B, when he made the call to ATC about the UAS.

    Even if the police helicopter was outside the Class B, that doesn’t mean that the UAS was not above or to the side of the helicopter and inside of the Class B.

    Additionally, the helicopter pilot reported he was at 800 feet and said that the UAS was above him. His estimate is that the UAS was at 2,000 feet. He was only 500 feet below the Class B. Sure, the helicopter’s report of the UAS’s altitude was an estimate, but his estimate would have to have been more than 700 feet off for the UAS to not be in the B. To a professional pilot, especially a police helicopter pilot, who more likely than not was trained in the military, it’s not hard to tell the difference between less than 700 and 1,200 feet.

    Moreover, it’s impossible to argue that the UAS wasn’t at least significantly above 800 feet, given that it was above the helicopter’s 800 feet. The FAA is very clear in its rules that RC aircraft may not be flown higher than 400 feet AGL.

    Regardless, even if the UAS was not in the B, and we ignore the fact that it was above 400 feet, I highly doubt the UAS pilots were trained to fly in the exclusion.

  • Bob Smiton

    The FAA has no authority to “write” law. They enforce law. There is a big difference. Anything the FAA has put out for hobby aircraft has been suggestion not law.