A bald eagle reportedly attacked a government drone worth approximately $950, tore off one of its propellers, and ultimately sent it plummeting to the bottom of Lake Michigan, The Guardian reported Friday.
“The Phantom 4 Pro Advanced quadcopter drone was about 162 feet in the sky when it is thought the bird of prey attacked — possibly mistaking the flying machine for a rival bird or tasty snack,” said the outlet.
According to the publication, the drone was likely on an “environmental monitoring mission.”
Drone pilot Hunter King was reportedly “mapping shoreline erosion for use in the agency’s efforts to document and help communities around Lake Michigan cope with high water levels when suddenly it began twirling furiously.”
He said the eagle attacking “was like a really bad rollercoaster ride.”
It seemed the bird was unharmed by the drone, as King saw it fly away afterward without issue.
An official statement from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) confirmed that King was working on the project for the fourth day and had only been about seven minutes into the session when reception suddenly became weak. He recalled the drone, strengthening the satellite feed. While it was on its way back to him, he witnessed the eagle’s attack through the video function.
A couple who was nearby confirmed King’s account of the incident and said they were not aware of what the bird was attacking, but did watch it strike something in the air before flying off, seemingly unhurt.
They also assisted the pilot in searching for the fallen drone, but unfortunately came up empty.
It was not until a few days later that an Unmanned Aircraft Systems coordinator, Arthur Ostaszewski, managed to pinpoint the Phantom 4 Pro Advanced’s location “150 feet offshore in four feet of water.”
He attempted to find the drone, but was unable to due to low visibility in the water, saying it was “like I was playing Battleship and wanted to cover the entire board.”
EGLE’s statement noted that, unfortunately, the exact drone model is no longer being produced, but they will replace it with a similar device.
To safeguard against a repeat incident, the team is also looking into different drone skins to make the object look less like a bird, as it is believed the bird of prey might have been acting territorially against a perceived invader.
On the plus side, eagle populations have “rebounded” in Michigan over the last few years. Last year, there were almost 850 active nesting sites recorded in the state.