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Near Collision With Drone Forces CHP Helicopter To Abandon Search For Stolen Car Over Martinez

MARTINEZ (CBS SF) -- A close encounter between a California Highway Patrol helicopter and a drone nearly ended in a mid-air disaster, police told KPIX 5.

The incident happened around 9 p.m. Saturday over Highway 4 in Martinez when the CHP chopper was searching for a stolen vehicle when the pilot suddenly saw a drone appear out of nowhere right in from of the aircraft. The pilot quickly veered to the right and narrowly avoided crashing into the drone.

"If you goes through the windshield and you the pilot, that's game over.  If it goes into the rotor blades, depending on where or what it hits, it could be the same situation," CHP Pilot Jim Andrews said.

The CHP says the drone was a Phantom 3 advanced model.

Police would follow the drone back to a home on Roux Court in Martinez. The drone operator was discovered to be an exchange student from China, KPIX 5's Joe Vazquez learned. The student's host family told Vazquez they were surprised by the incident after the student had told them he was going to go outside to test the software.

The FAA says it's the responsibility of all drone operators to avoid all manned aircraft and to know all the rules. For example, the FAA recommends flying a drone at an altitude of 400 feet or less, whereas this incident occurred at approximately 700-800 feet.

If it was a case where the drone operator was flying the device and the chopper appeared to fly into his space, it's still the drone operator's responsibility. KPIX 5's Vazquez suggests always looking and listening for other aircraft.

"Helicopters are not stealth aircraft. If you hear those chopper blades coming, pull the drone down. Avoid any possible calamities that could have happened last night," he said.

The drone pilot was not arrested, but the CHP referred the case to the feds. That could result in a possible fine or even criminal charges against the student.

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