Monday, December 19, 2016

Drone operators run afoul of emergency responders

LEBANON, New Hampshire -

They're considered a popular present this year, but drones are launching pleas from emergency responders to steer clear, and with some saying it's a matter of life and death.

Drones are becoming more and more popular, both commercial and recreational.  They allow you to soar to new heights.

But as the saying goes, nothing beats the real thing.  On this day we take to the skies with DHART, the helicopter emergency response crew at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. "We not only provide speed of flight, but we also provide an advanced level of care, with the two critical care providers we transport with. We fly with a critical care nurse and a critical care paramedic," said Kyle Madigan, DHART's Director.

DHART crews transport roughly 1,400 patients every single year, often the most critical in the region, but there is a new threat that they themselves face. "As we are flying 120 miles per hour through the sky and a drone passes us going the opposite direction, it can be a split second moment," Madigan said.

Over the past several months DHART pilots have encountered more than one unmanned aircraft in the air. Officials say a couple of close calls could have been deadly. "If we were to collide with a drone it could have a catastrophic effect on our vehicle, causing us either damage to the aircraft, or in the extreme causing our aircraft to have a crash landing," Madigan said.

The Federal Aviation Administration does have rules for drones.  Any drone weighing over .55 pounds must register with the FAA.   They are not allowed to fly higher than 400 feet.  Drones must always stay within eyesight of the operator, and not fly within five miles of an airport.  They are also not allowed to be used near power stations, government facilities, or prisons.  

But those in the sky say the rules are often not followed, or in some cases ignored, and drones are being seen more and more frequently in the exact places emergency responders need to go.  "People are flying drones around car accidents, around fires, trying to get a view of things that they weren't always able to see. But now with this technology in the palm of their hand and the drone flying, they can see things that they haven't seen before in the past.  Well this inhibits then emergency responders from doing their jobs," Madigan said.

There is an app drone operators can download, "Know Before you Fly," that includes maps of no fly zones. Public service announcements are also helping to get the word out. "Fly responsibly and follow the rules," Madigan said.

It's a message that's not meant to spoil the fun, just to ensure that this helicopter makes it back to the hospital safely, so patients can get the life-saving care they need. 


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