SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – The aerial inspection of a cracked window at San Francisco’s tilting Millennium Tower came to a crashing halt when the drone dropped from the sky, nearly missing pedestrians below.

Building managers were conducting the aerial survey of the structure while KPIX 5 cameras were rolling.

The Millennium Tower’s homeowners association hired a drone pilot to take photos of a cracked window.

The pilot says the drone lost satellite signal. At one point, the drone was no longer under his control. The drone drifted left and hit a building across from the sinking skyscraper.

The drone missed several people on the sidewalk and fell within 10 feet of a little boy.

“It was falling,” he said.

Before it came crashing down the pilot flew the drone to the 36th floor to take video and photos of a cracked window. The broken glass was first noticed last week.

“We’re trying to evaluate whether the tilting has anything to do with it but we’re also looking at all other aspects of it, structural, whether it’s part of the window assembly, the manufacturing process, the installation process,” said HOA attorney Thomas Miller.

Since its completion in 2009, researchers say the 58-story Millennium Tower has sunk 16 inches. It has also tilted 2 inches to the northwest.

“If it was related to the tilting or sinking of the building, then you would likely see a pattern of other cracks perhaps in that same line of where this window is and I don’t know if this is just the first window to crack,” said Miller.

The homeowners association has taped up the window and put a wooden shelter down below on the sidewalk to protect the pedestrians.
They’re hoping the drone footage will help experts determine what’s causing this window to crack.

The pilot had to launch the drone from three different locations due to interference with his GPS and satellite signals. The Financial District is a difficult place to get a signal due to all the high-rise buildings.

He says he was able to get footage of the cracked window before it crashed. It was very fortunate nobody was hurt.

Next week, the HOA is going to have someone rappel down on the side of the building to remove the framing around the window so they can further inspect the cause.

They also plan to tape up that area so the glass doesn’t fall on the ground.

Comments (23)
  1. Eric Braun says:

    This wasn’t “bad luck”! It was utter, complete incompetence and stupidity. They hired a complete amateur drone “pilot”. FAA requires that you not fly over people for exactly this reason. It’s 107.39 – look it up. There is no way this “pilot” had a 107.39 waiver. If GPS is spotty, fly in non-GPS ATTI mode, like the big boys do… that is, if you have the skill. We’ve shot in ATTI mode many times, in a dense forest for example. I can’t imagine this “pilot” even had a 107 certificate or was insured. He simply didn’t know the absolute basics of commercial flying. The FAA should come out and throw the book at him and whoever hired him.

    1. 100% agree with Eric on this one. If you can’t fly in ATTI (without GPS) then you are not ready to be hired.

    2. There is NOTHING in the Part 107 test that mentions anything about this situation, its fine if you have had experience but don’t blame it just on the UAV pilot. I shall be reporting the lot of you to the FAA for various written infractions and illicit advice over public transmission devices. Good night.

  2. Daniel Herbert says:

    Why is the incompetent remote pilot who flew this drone illegally and in a horribly unsafe manner not mentioned in this article???

  3. Lina Lamont says:

    The drone was drifting left, then crashed. I think you call that a metaphor.

  4. Ian Montgomery says:

    Agreed that this was completely pilot error. You see him fly into the building. Losing GPS isnt going to cause that and as the other comments pointed out – if you lose GPS, you just keep flying in ATTI mode. Let me guess, the owners of the building didn’t want to pay for a professional to come and do the survey? How’d that work out for you then?

  5. Yes, the pilot should have been flying in ATTI mode. Also, I would have closed off the sidewalk below, which would have mitigated the risk of the drone falling on someone. Also, if you close off the sidewalk, no 107.39 waiver required. Being a competent commercial pilot goes beyond just applying for a waiver when required. Health and safety risk mitigation is also a must.