The KABC chopper was flying over downtown around 7:15 p.m. when the pilot and reporter Chris Cristi say they heard and felt a bang as an object struck the tail of the chopper.
The impact did not affect the helicopter's ability to fly but the pilot landed as a precaution.
"We were flying just east of downtown LA and we heard this pop, a loud bang," Cristi said. "We felt it, we heard it. We all looked at each other. Didn't really know what it was. Just assumed it was a bird because that happens every once in a while. When we got on the ground, though, it was a different story."
#BREAKING: A DRONE struck the AIR7HD Chopper while they were flying over Downtown LA — requiring a precautionary landing.— Veronica Miracle (@ABC7Veronica) December 5, 2019
Luckily, everyone on board is OK. Hear from our @abc7chriscristi at 11pm on @ABC7. pic.twitter.com/MHbxVMr2Tx
While they initially believed they hit a bird, after landing they determined the object was most likely a drone. Dents and holes are visible in several spots on the helicopter.
The helicopter was flying at an elevation around 1,100 feet. Drones are normally prohibited from flying above 400 feet.
"It was a scary couple of minutes not knowing what happened," Cristi said. "But it feels great to be back on the ground."
Who was operating the drone is not immediately known.
Los Angeles Police Department officials launched an investigation into the incident.
This could have been a disaster & we are glad everyone is okay. Be a responsible and legal unmanned aircraft operator...know & follow the rules. In addition to FAA regulations, there is an Ordinance here in LA: https://t.co/NIzqxJdia1 https://t.co/smjPTDz4s3— LAPD Communications Division (@911LAPD) December 5, 2019
The department launched its own helicopter and sent out a ground crew to look for debris on the ground.
"This could have been a disaster & we are glad everyone is okay. Be a responsible and legal unmanned aircraft operator...know & follow the rules," LAPD tweeted.
In addition to federal laws, the department noted the city of Los Angeles has an ordinance passed in 2015 that regulates drones. The ordinance prohibits flying drones within five miles of an airport, above 400 feet elevation or in a way that interferes with manned aircraft. It also says drones cannot be operated beyond the unassisted line of sight of the operator.
As drones become more popular, conflicts with aircraft are becoming more common. There have been several incidents during California wildfires where firefighters had to stop aerial operations because of drones in the area.
During the Woolsey Fire in 2018, Los Angeles County firefighters reported several instances in which drones interfered with helicopter firefighting operations.