Thursday, August 18, 2016

As company apologizes, Wrightsville Beach officials need more time to review citation options for helicopter stunt

Wrightsville Beach town officials will need more time to review the legal options available in response to a helicopter stunt on Tuesday that dropped flyers over students at an organized beach party. Meanwhile, the founder of the tech startup company that dropped the flyers is publically apologizing after an online backlash over littering and the potential danger to students.

Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens said officials were in discussion with both the town attorney and the district attorney to see what legal options they can take against either Oak Island’s High Tide Helicopters or Likeli, the startup company that staged the promotion. Owens said a decision on what citations it can issue either of the companies may not come for a week.

Likeli hired the helicopter operator to fly over University of North Carolina Wilmington students at the annual Beach Blast party while an employee drop $1,000 in dollar bills, each stamped and attached to a flyer, most of which ended up in the ocean as students scrambled to retrieve the dollars.

Owens said the town was also investigating whether it could enforce its town ordinance requiring all aircraft maintain 500 feet of altitude, or whether similar Federal Aviation Administration rules would take precedent. He said the town’s likely only option would be to issue a littering citation.

George Taylor, III, founder and chief executive officer of startup app Likeli, apologized for the stunt on Thursday, in both a public Facebook post and in media interviews, and said the company would organize a beach sweep on Sunday to begin atone for the mistake.

“It was poorly executed, it wasn’t well thought through, and we own it,” Taylor said. “I’m not going to say it was a good idea. I’ve lived in Wilmington my whole life, the last thing I want to do is trash the ocean.”

Taylor said the stunt failed in many ways because the drop was intended for land. In addition to dropping flyers into the ocean, the dollar bills were stamped with water-based inked, likely washing off the message before many got to read it. The water also removed the adhesion between the flyer and dollar, with many students not even seeing the flyer. And the stickers were rendered useless in the water.

Taylor said there were company “ambassadors” on the beach ready to clean up any leftover flyers, but they were asked to leave the event by town officials after the drop. Many of the flyers were unreachable underneath the water.

The event sparked an outcry on social media, as beach advocates in the area reposted news and videos of the incident onto social media accounts. Taylor said that the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity may not be true here.

“I hate to be the one responsible here,” Taylor said. “But it is refreshing to see that there is immediately accountability from the community when you do what’s wrong.

Taylor said since Likeli’s services targeted the student community, the company wanted to make an impression on UNCW students, but sponsorship of Beach Blast proved too expensive, so they devised the new plan in 48 hours. Taylor said more thought should have gone into the stunt.

Owens said that incident marred what is a successful yearly event.

“I’m not saying we would stop the event, but if people continue with these kinds of shenanigans, we could have some issues,” Owens said.

To make amends, Taylor said the company would host a beach sweet at Stone Street on Sunday, Aug. 21 at 9 a.m.

“I’m hoping we can make right with what we’ve done,” Taylor said. “I don’t intend for that to be the end of this and we’re looking into doing events at Masonboro Island and Carolina Beach too.”


WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NC (WECT) -  The social media app company, Likeli, has issued an apology following a helicopter cash drop during a UNCW back-to-school event Tuesday. Likeli hired High Tide Helicopters out of Oak Island to fly over the crowd at UNCW's Beach Blast event at Wrightsville Beach.

Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens said he's looking into issuing citations for littering and dangerous flying.

"That's not something that we condone, that type of activity," Owens said. "It could be dangerous. i think this pilot is a really good pilot but you never know what happens even on the ground. You have a lot of kids, you know basically swimming around trying to grab money, you know something unfortunate with that could happen with that as well."

Owens said there's a town ordinance that requires aircraft to fly at a minimum of 500 feet above the ground, however is looking into Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

Jennifer Ward is the owner of High Tide Helicopters and was the pilot during the event.

"I've been very disappointed in the Likeli company and their lack of professionalism and I can assure you I won't be doing business with them again," Ward said.

Ward cited a Federal Aviation Administration regulation that allows helicopters to operate below the regulated altitudes for other aircraft. She said that would preempt state and local laws.

"I would never fly in such a way that would endanger anyone on the ground or in the helicopter and I'm disappointed that some of the comments made by the police department over in Wrightsville Beach implied."

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