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Call for public assistance after police Eagle helicopter’s near-miss with drone

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Police are calling for the public’s help to find the drone operator responsible for a near-miss with the Eagle helicopter.

An Eagle pilot spotted a drone flying in “extremely close proximity” to the police chopper while travelling over Auckland’s Spaghetti Junction shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day.

Flying at just under 1400 feet (425 metres), the pilot had to immediately veer away to avoid a “serious collision”, police said.

The drone came within five or 10 metres of the helicopter.

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“This could easily have ended in a tragedy and it is a worrying reminder of the dangers of flying drones near other aircraft,” Auckland City acting district commander Inspector Jim Wilson said.

The quick thinking of the Eagle pilot possibly helped avoid catastrophe, police said (file photo).

Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.nz

The quick thinking of the Eagle pilot possibly helped avoid catastrophe, police said (file photo).

“It could have absolutely been a fatal collision and we are just really pleased that we got the outcome that we did and the helicopter was able to evade the drone.”

On Wednesday, Detective Sergeant Kathy Bostock said enquiries into the incident were ongoing.

She asked any members of the public who had seen a drone in the area either late on December 31 or early on January 1 to phone 09 302 6557.

Drones are not permitted to be flown in the central city.

Following the near-miss, Eagle operations were halted while the helicopter was checked over and the flight crew was interviewed by detectives.

The Eagle was fully operational again on Tuesday morning, and was not damaged, Wilson said.

Air New Zealand has called for harsher restrictions on drone operators following a number of near-misses between drones and aircraft in 2018.

Airways, the company which operates air traffic control at Auckland Airport, said at least one drone a week was spotted flying illegally through controlled airspace in New Zealand.

Chief executive Graeme Sumner said drone operators did not have to be registered, which made it difficult to track down those who broke the rules.

“Depending on the size of the drone, collision with an aircraft could be catastrophic, especially with smaller aircrafts and light aircrafts like helicopters,” New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association president Tim Robinson said.

“They can bring those aircrafts down if it’s a direct hit.”

The Government was looking at tighter drone regulations, similar to Europe, which include registration, geo-transmitters and licences for drones over 250 grams.

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