Florida had third highest number of drone incidents last year, records show

FAA records: South Florida had 5 incidents last year

SUNRISE, Fla. – "It was a typical live event. We had to be there predawn. I was there to cover it," pilot Paul Barth remembered.

Last May, Barth was flying over Sunrise to film the Red Bull Wings for Life Run when something suddenly caught his eye.

"It's coming at us, coming at us, coming at us, coming at us," he said. "I want to know what this thing is and where it's going. If this thing takes my tail-rotor out, I'm going out on top of them."

The "thing" was a drone. There are thousands across Florida that are usually flown for fun, but recently they have been accused of flying in the face of pilots, passengers and people on the ground.

"It was closing on us. At that point it came right underneath us and I had to make an evasive action," Barth said.

"You feel it could've killed you?" Local 10 News investigative reporter Ross Palombo asked.

"Absolutely. Our lives were at risk and so were the lives of the people that were below that we were filming," said Barth.

"Is the general public at risk?" asked Palombo.

"Across the board," Barth said.

Federal Aviation Administration records obtained by Local 10 show there were 194 drone incidents nationwide last year. Florida had the third most incidents with 17 across the state.

South Florida had five incidents. There were two in Miami -- one downtown and one at the Seaport. There was also one along Miami Beach and one near Kendall-Tamiami Airport.

"A variety of people are at risk every day?" Palombo asked.

"Absolutely," Barth said, who added that the numbers are high.

"Do you think they're accurate?" asked Palombo.

"No, I think it's higher, because people haven't reported it," Barth said.

Barth reported his case to the FAA as a "near collision," similar to the one last year at JFK International Airport.

"I don't know if it was a drone or a balloon," the pilot in that case was heard saying on a flight recording. "It came real quick."

Already, this year, a drone crashed onto the White House front lawn.

"It's the wild west out there with the drones," Barth said.

There are few regulations to rein them in, few -- if any -- agents to patrol the skies. But the FAA did just propose new rules regarding commercial drones; they would limit altitude to 500 feet, weight to 55 pounds and require operators to be licensed.

"Way too little and obviously way too late," Barth said.

"Is that dangerous?" Palombo asked two witnesses to the May 4 incident.

"Absolutely, of course," Vicky Bonet said. "I don't think that drones should be allowed to private people."

"But your neighbor has one," said Palombo.

"What am I going to do about it? As long as he doesn't fly into me," Bonet said.

As for Barth, the pilot who did fly near a drone last May, he never did collide or crash into it. Now, though, he's flown straight into serious problems with the FAA. The video he sent the agency to illustrate the problem is now being used as evidence against him. Officials are questioning whether he himself unsafely flew too close to the drone when following it back to its owner.

Barth's flying certificate could now possibly be suspended.

"I'm shaken up," Barth said. "Here's a person who was endangering my life, endangering my camera man, the people on the ground and yet I'm having to defend myself for just trying to bring this to attention and protect myself and the general public."

The FAA is still deciding whether it will sanction Barth. Interestingly, its new rules would not have prevented this situation in any way, because they only apply to commercial drones.

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