Local TV news station KATU is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and taking heat from the mayor's office for allegedly endangering residents—the station's helicopter allegedly flew 400 feet below the legal limit to film Peacock Lane's Christmas lights two weeks ago.
Local architects Bill Smith and Andrea Jamison contacted the FAA after KATU's helicopter hovered just 100 feet, they say, above their home at the junction of SE 39th and Alder—one block west of Peacock Lane—between 5:15 and 6:30 pm on Friday, December 22. The FAA's legal height limit for helicopters over residential areas is 500 feet, designed to give helicopter pilots a chance to land safely if an electrical fault occurs.
Jamison, who as an architect says she's adept at estimating distances by sight, called KATU at 6 pm to express her safety concerns. She was told to leave a message for the station's news director, Don Pratt.
"I didn't feel my concerns were being taken seriously," Jamison says, so she decided to contact the FAA. FAA Investigator John Judge, who is handling the case, did not return the Mercury's calls by press time, but is understood to be talking to KATU's pilot, and may possibly take action against the station.
"The FAA has their regulations in place for very important reasons and to keep people safe," says Jeremy Van Keuren, a public advocate in Mayor Tom Potter's office. "The bottom line is that if that helicopter is flying under the safety limit, then that's not a safe situation and it does need to be addressed."
Pratt refused to comment on the FAA's ongoing investigation when contacted by the Mercury last Thursday, saying only: "We have a long history of operating that helicopter with the utmost responsibility and concern."