Drone nearly collides with medical chopper with patient on board

by: Jim Spiewak Updated:

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Dangerous drone operators are breaking the law in Memphis. 

A recent incident almost caused an accident with a two medical helicopters with children patients on board trying to get to the hospital. 

There are laws and regulations in place to make sure everyone stays safe in the air but local pilots are seeing a growing trend of recreational drone operators breaking those laws, flying drones in areas they shouldn't. and it's putting lives in danger. 

Pilot, Erik Bratton, is the safety director at Hospital Wing, a non-profit air medical transport service.  He was working last Monday when two choppers with child patients were trying to land at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and spotted a nearby drone. 

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“We don't normally look for airborne hazards. Drones are usually small, they're not lit, they don't have any communication ability,” said Bratton. 

Here's what Bratton said happened the night of the 12th.  The first chopper was coming in from the west and landed on Le Bonheur's helipad.  Shortly after, the pilot spotted a drone and for safety reasons could not take off.  That forced the second chopper to land six blocks south at a different helipad. 

An ambulance had to then take the patient back to Le Bonheur, wasting precious minutes.  Bratton says the drone was hoovering under the aircraft as it approached.  Operators with little knowledge of when and where drones can fly presents two threats. 

One is obvious... a mid-air collision. “It could bring the aircraft down catastrophically. It could be a chain of events that starts this really uncontrollable at that point,” Bratton added.  The second threat, a diversion, which is what happened last Monday.  “For a critical patient, say they're coming in as a trauma going to regional one, your level one trauma center in the area, well that can mean life or death,” said Bratton. 

The laws and regulations over drones are still evolving. 

In May of this year a federal appeals court struck down the FAA's requirement that hobby drones be registered.  Legislation was recently introduced that would give state and local authorities the power to regulate hobbyists. 

The ongoing issue over where drones can fly will also be debated in the bill.  In the meantime, pilots like Bratton, will have to keep a better watch, for the unknown. 

“Even if you don't have to register it doesn't alleviate the fact that you have to follow the rules.” 

Congressional committees are scheduled to start considering the FAA Reauthorization bill later this month.  FOX13 was the first TV station in the Mid-South to fly a drone for news gathering.  

We only use licensed drone pilots that follow all FAA regulations when using a drone to gather unique video.  

Hospital Wing is developing an educational program to school new drone owners.   You can see their information here.  

To see a list of the rules hobbyists must follow, click here. 

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