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A low flying helicopter over Burbank alarmed residents and snarled traffic as it hovered in the vicinity of 84th Place and Menard Avenue Sunday evening about 5:30 p.m. Burbank Police said they received numerous complaints from residents about the helicopter and sent officers to investigate.
Burbank Police Division Chief Mike Dudlo said, "From what I understand, it was some large wedding in the area. They had hired the use of the helicopter to record the procession."
A number of photos and videos of the hovering helicopter were posted on The Burbank Beat Facebook page. Most of the comments left on Facebook expressed bewilderment and annoyance with the helicopter but at least one person was apprehensive about the low flying chopper saying, "Helicopter was hovering so low [I] thought it might be an attack of some kind."
Several witnesses estimated the helicopter to be between 50 to 100 feet above the trees and described it as being "dangerously low." A video posted on Facebook appears to show the helicopter releasing leaflets over the crowd.
In general the FAA prohibits airplanes from operating less than 1000 feet above a congested area but allows helicopters to be flown at lower altitudes "if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface." The reason the FAA allows helicopters to operate at these low altitudes is because "they [helicopters] have unique operating characteristics, the most important of which is their ability to execute pinpoint emergency landings during power-out emergencies."
Dudlo said, "The helicopter company did have permission from Midway Airport...to fly as low as it did. Our dispatch center did make contact with officials from the Midway Airport air traffic control tower and confirmed this."
A Chicago area FAA safety inspector confirmed that the agency received several complaints and is in the early stages of an investigation into the incident.
The helicopter's registration number or "N-Number" (aircraft registered in the U.S. are assigned a number by the FAA beginning with the letter N) was clearly visible and witnesses noted it as N98VL. The FAA N-Number Database identifies the helicopter as a Robinson R44 II owned by Vortex Leasing LLC in Racine, Wis.
The R44 is a four-seat light helicopter that has a single reciprocating engine and is widely used by charter operators and sightseeing companies.
Video Credit: Martina Elizabeth Barnat