An easyJet Airbus A320 narrowly avoided a suspected drone, missing it by a mere 16 feet while traveling over 300mph above the Sussex landscape, according to an official disclosure.
The UK Airprox Board, responsible for examining close calls, shared that the pilots initially mistook the object for a bird before determining it was likely an illicitly operated drone.
The near-collision took place at an altitude of 5,000 feet, just three minutes after departing Gatwick Airport en route to Basel, Switzerland. A catastrophic outcome could have resulted if the drone entered the jet’s engines or shattered the cockpit windshield.
Air traffic controllers were promptly alerted by the pilots and issued a warning to other aircraft departing Gatwick.
The suspected drone might have been operated by a rogue individual seeking dramatic footage of a passing airliner.
Typically, drones are restricted to a maximum altitude of 400 feet, making the suspected drone over 12 times the legal limit.
Despite the pilots’ accounts, investigators could not definitively confirm the object as a drone due to insufficient evidence.
Had the drone operator been identified, they could have faced charges of endangering an aircraft and up to five years imprisonment.
The event occurred at 3:21 pm on February 24, as the jet ascended to cruising altitude near Uckfield, East Sussex.
The UK Airprox Board classified the incident as Category A, indicating a serious risk of collision.
The report said: “The A320 pilot reports climbing through 5,000ft when the First Officer (PF) exclaimed that there was a bird ahead.
“They looked and caught sight of a dark-coloured object that passed very quickly down the left side, within 5-10m of the left wing.”
Gatwick air traffic controllers confirmed to investigators that they had received the pilot’s report of a near miss with a drone.
An easyJet spokesperson commented: “We are aware of the report and will always fully support any investigation.
“Safety is always easyJet’s highest priority and our flight crew acted in accordance with our standard operating procedures to ensure the safety of the flight was not compromised at any time.”
The controller relayed that the pilot described the object as silver and not a bird. Following departures at Gatwick were informed of the incident.
National Air Traffic Services (NATS) have corroborated that the pilot reported a suspected drone encounter shortly after leaving Gatwick.
NATS stated that radar analysis showed no primary or secondary contacts at the approximate time of the incident.
The UK Airprox Board concluded that luck had played a significant role in preventing a collision but could not determine the nature of the unidentified object.