On Saturday night around 9pm, above the northern California city of Martinez, a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer was flying a helicopter over Highway 4, searching for a stolen car. According to SFGate, speaking to Officer James Andrews, spokesman for the CHP air operations unit, the pilot suddenly saw a red light just in front of the craft’s cabin window.
The pilot veered to the right to avoid a collision with the drone, which was flying at the pilot’s same altitude—between 700 to 800 feet. (Amateur drone operators are generally not permitted to fly higher than 400 feet.) The pilot then circled back, illuminating the drone with a spotlight. The pilot was allegedly able to watch the drone land and gave its coordinates to Martinez police.
According to SFGate, “A Martinez police officer spotted a man carrying a drone into his front yard.” The man’s information was forwarded to the CHP. He was not arrested. According to reporters from CBS San Francisco, the man was an exchange student from China, and he was flying a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone. His name was not released.
Martinez police said that the incident will continue to be investigated by federal authorities, which could press federal charges. In a television interview, officer Andrews said that it was the responsibility of the drone operator “to know the rules” before flying, adding that the drone could have struck the helicopter cabin or hit its rotors, causing injury or death to the helicopter pilot.
This November, the Department of Transportation put forward a plan to create a national registry of drones in order to cut down on incidents where drones interfere with firefighting planes.