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Patrol helicopter in close call with drone, pilot helps cops catch operator

It’s clearly not just airplane pilots being forced to dodge drones. Helicopter pilots, too, are reporting instances of the remotely controlled flying machines coming too close for comfort, the latest incident happening in California over the weekend.

A pilot working for the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was forced to take evasive action about 800 feet over Martinez, 20 miles north-east of San Francisco, on Saturday night after spotting “a red light outside of the cabin, straight ahead and very close,” Officer James Andrews of the CHP air operations unit told the SF Gate.

Related: “Drone slayer” cleared of charges, judge says he had the right to shoot down UAV

The helicopter reportedly had to make a sharp turn to the right to avoid colliding with the drone. Turning his attention from the stolen vehicle he’d been attempting to locate, the pilot tracked the drone and illuminated it with the helicopter’s spotlight.

Determined to pinpoint the operator and turn him into police, the pilot directed cops to where the drone landed.

The SF Gate said that although the drone owner wasn’t arrested, the incident is currently being investigated by federal and local authorities, which could culminate in a court appearance.

Andrews described the incident as “a close call,” adding,“Everyone got away without injury. But it could have been worse.”

He said that in an “absolute worse-case scenario, the drone could come through the window and take out the pilot, and the helicopter could come down.”

Related: Drone registration will be easy so don’t pay for help, FAA tells consumers

Aware of the rising popularity of quadcopters and similar machines, sales of which are expected to fly off the charts this holiday season, Andrews said the situation for pilots “is going to get worse” unless drone owners use their common sense when sending their machine skyward.

Current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines recommend operators keep their drone in sight at all times and at under 400 feet, well below the altitude of the machine involved in Saturday’s CHP incident.

Getting your first quadcopter for Christmas? The FAA released a helpful video last year offering some useful pointers on how to get the most out of your new toy without bringing down an aircraft or causing some similar catastrophic incident. Check it out below, and have fun!