After a New York teen was killed by his remote control helicopter Thursday, Chicago experts are warning of the risks involved in flying the so-called “toys."
“Those are helicopters that are expert level,” said Greg Bosak, owner of Chicagoland Toys and Hobbies.
Officials said a 19-year-old helicopter enthusiast and his dad were in a Brooklyn park when the teen attempted to perform a trick with the model helicopter and something went wrong. The aircraft boomeranged and sliced the top of his head, according to law enforcement officials.
While the flying fad is a popular hobby among many young and old aficionados, Bosak said the helicopters are anything but “toys.”
“We really don’t like to consider them toys,” he said. “It takes years to get into something like that. There’s definitely a skill level involved.”
Pirozek was a member of the Seaview Rotary Wings, a Brooklyn-based club for model helicopter enthusiasts, of which his father is also the vice president. The two of them flew model helicopters almost every weekend, sometimes traveling to competitions.
"It was their big hobby, and it's just very tragic to see and think about it," said neighbor Ken Marchisella.
Bosak estimates the blades on the model helicopter flown by Pirozek spanned around 5 feet long and the helicopter could reach speeds of up to 60 mph, with the blades spinning even faster.
“You could actually cut a branch off of a tree with one," Bosak said. "It’s not something to be taken lightly.”
But experts say despite the risks of flying remote control helicopters, deadly accidents involving the machines are rare.
According to Rich Hanson of the Indiana-based Academy of Model Aeronautics, a membership group for helicopter hobbyists, there are risks involved in using the helicopters, but overall, the machines are not dangerous.
“These are mechanical devices and they’re operated by humans so there’s a possibility for error or failure on either side," he said. "To have an operator hit by his own aircraft though is extremely rare.”
Both Hanson and Bosak noted there is only one other documented fatality involving the remote control aircrafts.
“It’s definitely a freak accident,” Bosak said. “It’s definitely not the norm for this hobby. You probably have a higher risk walking down the street than you do flying a helicopter.”
Hanson said other helicopter enthusiasts should always keep in mind that there are potential risks in flying the machines and ensuring the helicopter is far away from the operator and spectators in case of an accident is one way to mitigate those risks.