UNITED STATES

Remote-controlled helicopter decapitates its 'pilot' in a New York park

'Pilot' is killed by remote-controlled machine he was flying in New York park used by enthusiasts

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 September, 2013, 4:37am
NYT

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A 19-year-old was killed when the large remote-controlled model helicopter that he was piloting in a New York park struck him and sliced off the top of his head.

Roman Pirozek, of Queens, was operating the large model at around 3.30pm on Thursday in a grassy area of Calvert Vaux Park, Brooklyn, when the machine hit him and the blades sheared through his skull, police said.

Police are interviewing witnesses in the park. The area attracts experienced "pilots" eager to try out new moves with powerful model helicopters that they have often built themselves or adapted.

For those familiar with serious model helicopter piloting, the death of Pirozek was a grim reminder of the dangers inherent in operating such unpredictable machines by remote. "They crash all day long," said the owner of Brooklyn Hobbies, who gave his name only as Richie.

The reasons, he said, generally fall into three categories: the remote sends bad signals, the person does not build it well, or the pilot try to perform a manoeuvre above their skill level.

"This one is just a sad thing where a kid got hit," he added. "It probably happened in a blink of an eye."

Pirozek was an accomplished flier of radio-controlled helicopters, said Butch Wellbeck, a fellow enthusiast who met him on several occasions. Pirozek had followed in the footsteps of his father, also an avid flier.

Pirozek specialised in the most extreme form of flying, Wellbeck said, trying complex manoeuvres that "defied gravity". He had even been sponsored by a manufacturer of the models, Wellbeck said.

Word of Pirozek's death spread quickly in the model helicopter community. "Everyone will look at this" with an eye to safety improvements, Wellbeck said. "People think they are toys, but these aren't toys," he added, describing 20kg scale models of real helicopters. "These are high-performance models and they can be very dangerous."

Councillor Domenic Recchia, of Brooklyn, said he planned to write a letter to New York's Parks and Recreation Department asking for a moratorium on helicopter flying in the park "until we find out what exactly transpired".

Deadly accidents involving remote-controlled helicopters are infrequent, but the stories are shared stoically among hobbyists, most of whom do not wear helmets or other protective gear.

In July, a man in Switzerland was found dead near his helicopter with severe cuts to his arms and legs, apparently delivered by the model, said news reports.

And in 2003, a 41-year-old remote-controlled helicopter instructor in Texas reportedly died after the blades from a student's model struck him in the throat.