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Pilot reports mysterious drone that could have caused crash over JFK airport

Published time: March 05, 2013 17:27
An aerial view of John F. Kennedy Airport (Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP)

An aerial view of John F. Kennedy Airport (Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP)

The Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating a possible drone sighting reported over New York City by a commercial airline pilot on Monday.

The operator of a Boeing 777 flown by Italy’s Alitalia told air traffic controllers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York that he encountered an unmanned aerial vehicle a few hundred feet in front of his aircraft while flying over Brooklyn, NY Monday afternoon.

“We saw a drone, a drone aircraft,” the pilot is radioing to JFK airport’s control tower in audio released Monday night.

The unidentified flying object was described hovering around 1,500 feet off the ground around five miles outside of JFK. The pilot of Flight AZA 60 did not take any evasive action and managed to land the flight without further incident, although a near-collision could have jeopardized the safety of the passengers should the reported drone have caused the Alitalia pilot to erratically maneuver the aircraft.

Now the Joint Terrorism Task Force says they are investigating in order to determine what exactly the Alitalia pilot spotted.

Laura Brown, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, tells CNN that the FAA is also investigating the incident. One source speaking to the New York Post on condition of anonymity though says the pilot was certain it was a drone that he spotted.

“He was very clear as to what he saw,” the source says. According to the Post’s report, the pilot described the aircraft as “a black drone about a meter square, with helicopter rotors on the corners.”

“In all the years I’ve been with the airport, I can’t remember a similar incident,” one investigator adds the paper.

Earlier this year, New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly told Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler that the NYPD has considered acquiring a drone for surveillance purposes, but claims to not have one in its arsenal just yet.

“The only thing we would do is maybe use the cheap $250 ones to take a look and see the size of the demonstration or something along those lines,” Kelly said.

As preliminary reports on this week’s drone sighting continue to trickle in, some commentators have speculated that the aircraft spotted on Monday may have been just a hobbyist’s drone not equipped with the space-age technology outfitted on high-tech drones. According to an airport shuttle driver that spoke with 1010 WINS Radio, remote-controlled aircraft are routinely flown in the area by amateurs.

“I see it many times,” the driver, Fyezil, tells the radio station. “Sometimes, I see them flying so high.”

The US Department of Homeland Security keeps a fleet of drones for surveillance over the nation’s borders, and military drones are regularly tested over select bases scattered across the nation. One of those exercises last year went awry when a 44-foot drone engaged in a routine maintenance flight crashed in the Chesapeake Bay around 100 miles outside of Washington, DC.

ABC News claims that a second pilot caught on tape also reported seeing the drone Monday afternoon.