DRONE USERS TAKE NOTICE: Westpac helicopter pilot James Orrom and his crew Samantha Thornton and Richard McHugh had a close call with a drone whilst on patrol over Alexandra Bay near Noosa.
DRONE USERS TAKE NOTICE: Westpac helicopter pilot James Orrom and his crew Samantha Thornton and Richard McHugh had a close call with a drone whilst on patrol over Alexandra Bay near Noosa. John McCutcheon

Brush with disaster: Rescue chopper 10m from doom

A SUNSHINE Coast rescue helicopter pilot has recounted the chilling moments a drone came within metres of bringing down his chopper as it soared above Noosa.

Surf Life Saving Queensland Westpac Lifesaver Rescue chopper pilot James Orrom and his crew, a winch operator and rescue crewman, were on a routine patrol above Alexandria Bay on Saturday afternoon when they went they had a brush with disaster.

Mr Orrom said they were headed north from Caloundra towards Teewah Beach when they slowly entered Alexandria Bay, a popular, secluded swimming spot in Noosa National Park, about 2.30pm.

As they flew into 'A-Bay' as it's more commonly known, a drone flying south passed over the top of them, only about 10m above their disc rotor and blades.

"It just basically flew straight over the top of us," Mr Orrom recalled.

 

Westpac Chopper Pilot Near-Miss at Noosa: DRONE USERS TAKE NOTICE: Westpac helicopter pilot James Orrom and his crew Samantha Thornton and Richard McHugh had a close call with a drone whilst on patrol over Alexandra Bay near Noosa.
Westpac Chopper Pilot Near-Miss at Noosa: DRONE USERS TAKE NOTICE: Westpac helicopter pilot James Orrom and his crew Samantha Thornton and Richard McHugh had a close call with a drone whilst on patrol over Alexandra Bay near Noosa.

He said he spotted the drone about 30m away from them but had no time to react and alter his course, as the drone sped past them in just seconds.

"It's probably the closest call I've ever had," he said.

A pilot of 11 years, Mr Orrom had spent the past two years flying the Westpac Rescue helicopter.

He said the three of them had been left shaken after the near-miss.

"There were a few expletives exchanged," the Surrey native said.

"Worst case, absolutely, it could bring us down."

 

DRONE USERS TAKE NOTICE: Westpac helicopter pilot James Orrom and his crew Samantha Thornton and Richard McHugh had a close call with a drone whilst on patrol over Alexandra Bay near Noosa.
DRONE USERS TAKE NOTICE: Westpac helicopter pilot James Orrom and his crew Samantha Thornton and Richard McHugh had a close call with a drone whilst on patrol over Alexandra Bay near Noosa. John McCutcheon

Mr Orrom said if the drone had smashed through the front cabin and taken him out, entered the engine intake or hit one of the rotor blades or power blade they could've crashed.

"There's no good result from a drone hitting the helicopter," he said.

"This was definitely the closest (incident with a drone) by a mile.

"We entered A-Bay very, very slowly, it's a very noisy helicopter. There's no way (the drone operator didn't know they were there)."

He said their BO 105 helicopter had been flying at a height of "bang on" 200ft at the time and he estimated the drone had passed them at about 230ft.

The crew were able to spot the drone operator who was later identified and Mr Orrom said they'd filed a complaint with the police about the incident.

"The majority (of drone operators) are very, very good," he said.

"It's only a small minority (doing the wrong thing)."

WHAT TO DO:

Sunshine Coast Daily photographer Patrick Woods is a Civil Aviation Safety Authority-certified commercial drone operator.

He said there were a few tips to remember when operating a drone and the bottom line was common sense had to prevail.

His tips are:

  • Make sure batteries and power packs are all fully-charged and drone is operational
  • Get accustomed to your drone and educate yourself before flying on things like what range it has
  • Use the 'Can I Fly There' app, which tells you what flight restrictions are in place in the location you're flying
  • Be aware of restrictions around airports, hospitals etc
  • If you see another aircraft like a rescue helicopter in the area, land your drone immediately somewhere safe
  • Don't fly drones above a height of 120m
  • Use height lock features on certain drones which ensure you can't exceed 120m height