Military, Public Service

Drone Intruder “Could’ve Killed Everybody”

By Staff Writer | June 26, 2015
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Two unmanned aircraft flying near California firefighting aircraft in closed airspace June 24 “could’ve killed everybody in the air,” a U.S. Forest Service official told a press conference called to highlight the incident. Forest Aviation Officer Mike Eaton, a tactical air supervisor, said a red or orange fixed-wing drone with a 3-4 foot wingspan flew between two firefighting aircraft flying at 12,500 and 11,500 feet that were preparing to drop retardant on the Lake Fire in the San Bernardino Mountains. An air tanker was trailing the two aircraft. After the encounter with the drone, the three aircraft broke off the attack and two returned to base at San Bernardino International Airport. As they did, the pilots reported spotting a rotary-wing unmanned aircraft flying at about 700 feet. The incidents prompted fire officials to halt attacks for the day. Southern California’s first major wildfire of the year “certainly grew because we weren’t able to drop the retardant,” Eaton told the press conference. By the morning of June 25, more than 23,000 acres were burning. The incidents prompted fire officials to reiterate their message to drone operators: “If you fly, we don’t.”

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