Drone operator risked fatal helicopter crash - pilot

Drone operator risked fatal helicopter crash - pilot

An experienced helicopter pilot has described his anger at discovering a drone was flying near him during a fire-fighting operation in Canterbury last year, saying it could have flown through his windscreen or hit him in the face.

Kairaki man Simon Roy Reeve, 38, faces three charges including causing unnecessary endangerment and flying a drone in a controlled airspace without permission.

Prosecutors claim he flew his remote-operated drone dangerously close to a Way2Go Heli Services squirrel helicopter fighting a large plantation fire at The Pines Beach in January last year.

David Askin, also known as Steve, described his anger at seeing drone footage of the fire pop up on the news that night.

The helicopter pilot and instructor said he had no idea it was in the air during the dangerous operation.

"When I was sitting there watching that footage, I was running through all the possible instances of what could have happened," he told the court.

"For one, it could damage the helicopter, and the helicopter is an expensive piece of equipment. Two, it could bring me down to the ground, cause me to crash."

Mr Askin described how helicopter pilots typically take the doors off of their aircraft in fire-fighting operations and hang their head outside, to give a good view of their monsoon bucket and target. The worst case scenario he said would be the drone hitting him in the face.

"That thing could come through the windscreen at the pilot. There's a hundred million different scenarios that could happen, that could affect the helicopter in a small way to a big way."

TVNZ pays for drone footage

Evidence began this morning with testimony from a TVNZ news crew which arrived at the scene to report on the fire and a series of evacuations near the plantation.

Reporter Joy Reid told the court she noticed Mr Reeve operating a remote-control in a clearing near Pines Beach village sometime in the mid-afternoon. She couldn't see the drone at the time and didn't notice it until it Mr Reeve decided to land it later in the day.

She offered to pay Mr Reeve $200 for his footage and it aired on the 6pm news that evening.

The defence has previously claimed that Mr Reeve had line of sight with the drone and was able to see it at all times during the flight.

Camera operator Daniel O'Sullivan said the drone had captured scenes he was unable to film from the ground. He initially noticed Mr Reeve flying the drone in a clearing near the plantation, but claimed it was operating in a "completely different location" later in the day.

The judge-alone trial is expected to conclude tomorrow.