Feds investigate after drone nearly hits Aero Med helicopter

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Federal authorities are investigating after an Aero Med helicopter nearly collided with a drone while landing at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.

It happened in mid-August. Spectrum Health said the drone was hovering over the hospital’s rooftop landing site as the helicopter crew landed to pick up additional medical personnel for a flight.

“All eyes are on the outside, looking for any issues like obstacles and hazards,” said Aero Med Director Tiffany Obetts. “As they were approaching the helipad to land, one of the team members in the back spotted a drone, fairly close, enough to cause pause.”

Security video shows the crew getting out of the aircraft, as the drone continues to hover nearby.

“It just kept approaching, until it got close enough that he (a crew member) reached up and grabbed it right out of the sky,” Obetts said.

Spectrum Health provided a picture of the Mavic Mini Ultra Light 249g drone, a device slightly bigger than the palm of a hand.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the Grand Rapids incident. But the drone was not registered, so finding out who was flying the drone isn’t likely.

“At this point, we are grateful that nothing serious happened. And using it as a learning opportunity for our community to urge that they act responsibly when operating a drone and follow the procedures and recommendations the FAA outlines,” Obetts said.

If it’s hard for you to imagine what could have happened, think back to May 2008.

An Aero Med pilot practicing take-off and landings hit a radio tower on the roof. The pilot managed to keep the chopper on the roof.

He and another passenger escaped from the fireball caused by the chopper crashed.

No one was seriously hurt.

Major upgrades were made to the helipad to prevent the same type of near tragedy from happening in the future.

But even though the FAA has rules in place, the hospital has little control over cheap and easy to buy drones. And some 4,000 people, from patients to staff to family members, are in the hospital on an average day.

“It puts people in the hospital, and even bystanders that would be on the sidewalks and outside at risk,” Obetts said.

Anyone with information about the drone is asked to call the local FAA office at 616.954.6657.