Drone operators 'exasperated' by dangerous flying after terrifying near-miss

New Year's celebrations almost turned deadly overnight, when a police helicopter flying above central Auckland narrowly avoided a drone.

The drone - flying significantly above the legal limit - came within 10 metres of the helicopter and police staff were left shaken after being forced to take evasive action.

"It absolutely could have been a fatal collision," Inspector Jim Wilson, acting District Commander for Auckland City, told Newshub on Tuesday.

"It's immensely frustrating. We've got magnificent men and women flying up in the Eagle helicopter - they're there to keep our community safe, and for something like this to happen, which is completely unnecessary, is really concerning.

"I'm of the firm belief that [the pilot] potentially saved lives. If he hadn't have taken that evasive action, who knows what would have happened."

Inspector Jim Wilson.
Inspector Jim Wilson. Photo credit: Newshub.

But the location of Monday night's lucky escape was enough of a reminder.

Central Auckland's spaghetti junction is also the site of the worst crash in Eagle history. Four people were killed in 1993 when a police helicopter collided with a small plane.

"It wasn't lost on us, I can certainly say that," Insp Wilson said.

The Civil Aviation Authority rules dictate that you cannot fly your drone higher than 400 feet above the ground. This drone was exceeding that limit by close to 1000 feet.

Drone developer Bevin Lealand told Newshub New Year's Eve is the biggest night of the calendar for hobby flyers - and it's believed another two drones were also nearby when the incident took place.

"It's a real concern and for a commercial operator, it just really detracts from how valuable the aircraft is for awesome photography," he said.

Drone operator Bevin Lealand and reporter Lisette Reymer.
Drone operator Bevin Lealand. Photo credit: Newshub.

But with drones selling for as cheap as $40, stories of collisions and near misses like these are only becoming more common.

Mr Lealand says it's time for tighter restrictions and better education.

"We just are exasperated by this continual random flying when we have to pay quite a lot of money to get a license and do things by the book."

But with 280,000 drones already active in New Zealand, it could be a case of the drone having already flown.


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