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5 cases that, as it turned out, were not caused by drones

27 November 2019 by Adrienn Kerekes 0 Comments

Air traffic at London's Gatwick Airport was grounded for 36 hours before Christmas after witnesses reported a drone nearby. At the beginning of January, flights at London's Heathrow airport were briefly suspended after a drone was spotted. A short time later, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey was suspended from taking off and receiving flights after flight crews twice reported a drone nearby at an altitude of about 1,070 meters.

It may seem like drones are everywhere.

The latest sighting in New Jersey at 1,070 meters is very significantly above the permitted flight altitude level for drones. Even if it is possible to fly a drone at such an altitude, would the pilot fly the drone at 4:45 on a freezing Tuesday afternoon when the sun is already setting? The story is not really realistic.

In addition, three additional factors must be examined in connection with the reported cases.

First, both reporting aircraft were traveling at approximately 400 km/h. Assuming the drone was more or less stationary, that means the crew only had a few tenths of a second to even notice the object out there, not to identify it in such a short period of time. Second, most drones are small, no bigger than a football.

Third, and perhaps the most important thing to remember, aircraft crews are no more trained than you or I to identify flying drones. Their reports can also be wrong (as it has been proven before), and it is much more typical of them to assume that drones may have something to do with the events in unclear cases.

Instead of these assumptions, the most logical conclusion would be that they saw something else, or perhaps they saw nothing at all. As was observed in previous cases, the presumption of drone detection took over the role of the previously characteristic UFO detection in cases where something inexplicable was thought to be seen in the sky.

Do you think this is too bold a conclusion? Below, you can read about five cases where drones were assumed to be the culprit, but these accusations were later proven to be false.

The case with the bat

In July 2017, the pilot of a SOCATA TB-10 Tobago aircraft in South Australia reported colliding with an object while attempting to land at Parafield Airport. The case was presented by the media as having collided with a flying drone,

partly because the pilot stated that there were no bird remains on the wings of the aircraft after landing. They said it could only be a drone, right?


As we've seen countless times in the media, "possible" or "probable" simply changed to "fatal drone strike" and this news quickly spread across the headlines. However, the Australian Transport Safety Agency decided that the damaged area of ​​the plane's wing would be examined by fire and samples taken for DNA detection. DNA testing confirmed that the previously unidentified flying object was in fact a grey-headed flying dog - the largest bat in Australia. Oops!

The case with a plastic bag

In April 2016, London's Met Police reported that a drone collided with a landing plane at Heathrow Airport.

A few days later, when the accident had sufficiently damaged the reputation of the drone industry and drone pilots, the United Kingdom's transport minister, Robert Goodwill, admitted in an interview with The Telegraph that the plane had presumably collided with a plastic bag.

plastic bag

"Regarding the collision reported on Sunday, it has not been confirmed that it was a drone accident. It's just that the local police tweeted that they had a report of an accident involving a drone and a plane," Goodwill said. "And that the initial reports that there was a dent in the front of the plane were actually not officially confirmed. So there was no damage to the aircraft. Some people speculate that the plane may have collided with a plastic bag or something similar."

A case of random structural failure

In January 2017, a LAM (Linhas Aereas de Mocambique) Boeing 737-700 was en route from Maputo to Tete in Mozambique. At an altitude of about 1,220 meters, while the plane was descending towards the runway at Tete Airport, the crew heard a loud bang. Suspecting a collision with a bird, they continued their descent and landed successfully.

structural failure

Post-flight inspection found damage to the right side of the nose cone on a LAM Boeing 737-700. As it turned out, the damage was caused by a random structural fault, and the possibility of a collision with a drone was ruled out by the tests.

A post-landing investigation concluded that a drone had struck the right side of the aircraft's radar antenna fairing. The airline publicly confirmed the incident, claiming that a "foreign body" caused the damage and blaming a nearby mining company's drone for the incident. However, a few days later - again only after the news of the incident had spread in the media as a proven collision with a drone - the Civil Aviation Authority of Mozambique announced that they concluded that the antenna cover was probably damaged because of a structural failure caused by air pressure. The possibility of injury caused by a foreign body has been ruled out.

A case of "almost certainly not a drone was responsible".

In November 2016, a Canadian passenger plane with 54 passengers on board went into a nosedive at an altitude of 2,745 meters above Lake Ontario to avoid a collision with an unidentified flying object directly in the plane's path. During the maneuver, two flight attendants suffered minor injuries, and several leading media claimed that a drone was responsible for the incident.


A Porter airliner is believed to have performed an evasive maneuver to avoid a drone in an unrealistic position.

Despite Porter's spokesperson announcing that the pilot thought the UFO was a balloon at first glance, Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) spokeswoman Genevieve Corbin told reporters that "the most likely is that the object was a drone”.

The incident happened at an altitude of 2,745 meters above Lake Ontario, 19 kilometers from the coast, in which case a drone can hardly be seen, or not at all. So it's most likely a bird or an escaped birthday balloon.

It's a case of "we don't know what happened, but it was still a drone's fault".

In December 2018, an Aeroméxico plane was en route from Guadalajara to Tijuana-Rodriguez Airport when the crew heard a loud bang. The incident was similar to what happened in Mozambique. The local media brought the Boeing 737-800 plane into the headlines with serious damage to the nose of the plane.

Boeing 737-800

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, reports suggested that a collision with a drone had caused the damage to the plane. However, after further investigations, the Aviation Safety Office already stated the following about the incident:

"Aeroméxico flight AM770 suffered damage to its radar antenna cover while approaching Mexico's Tijuana-Rodriguez airport.

Photographs of the aircraft show large dents and tears on the right nose radar antenna cover, and the layers are partially detached.

Despite the news that a drone had hit the plane, this cannot be confirmed, there is no evidence that the plane actually collided with a drone. There are known cases where the nose cone was also structurally damaged without any impact, such as the LAM B737 aircraft in Mozambique in 2017.

Therefore, the incident was initially mistakenly blamed on a drone.”

We still don't know exactly what happened, but there is no evidence that a drone had anything to do with it.

A case where a drone was indeed at fault

The only proven case of a drone colliding with an aircraft occurred on September 21, 2017 in the United States. A recreational drone pilot flew his drone out of sight in an area where federal authorities have temporarily banned drone flights due to security concerns at the current United Nations General Assembly.

A Black Hawk military helicopter was flying low over Staten Island when it collided with a drone. The drone crashed into the rotor of the helicopter and partially pierced the plane. Fortunately, the Black Hawk pilot was able to land the helicopter safely at Linden Airport in New Jersey.

"We found the engine and one of the arms of a small drone, which belong to a DJI Phantom 4 drone," said the US National Transportation Safety Agency. In the following days, the investigators managed to find the pilot of the drone, who was questioned.

Although the risks posed by drones are sometimes overstated, at the end of our article we would like to highlight the importance of the responsibility of the person controlling the drone and emphasize that flying should only be done with due care, knowledge of and compliance with the law. During the flight, the possibility of endangering persons, animals, and property must not arise!

You can find out about the upcoming EU regulations here ( EU regulations for drones have arrived) and here ( EU regulations ).

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