HK police search for missing `spy in the sky' helicopter


Tue, May 16, 2006 - Page 4

A high-tech model helicopter which Hong Kong police planned to use as a secret weapon against smugglers has been lost during a test flight, police officials said yesterday.

The remote-controlled helicopter, fitted with a wireless camera and a Global Positioning System (GPS), was being flown by a senior policeman when it spun out of control and crashed into a hillside.

A four-day search involving more than a dozen officers has been under way in dense undergrowth since last Tuesday, but a police spokesman said: "The machine has not yet been recovered and the search continues."

The US$4,500 helicopter was bought by the police to fly over remote areas of Hong Kong to look for smugglers and illegal immigrants, beaming video back to police on the ground.

It took part in a trial search and rescue operation for a missing hiker in September and immediately flew into an internal police controversy over whether its use violated people's privacy.

The helicopter took off again in two successful test flights over a refuse collection site before before its fatal last journey on Tuesday.

"The regional commander took the controls of the helicopter and somehow managed to ditch it where no one could find it. There have been all sorts of jokes going around about `Black Hawk Down' ever since," a police source said.

"Teams of police officers have been out looking for this thing every day since it went down. The search has probably cost more than the helicopter cost in the first place," the source said.

The police spokesman was unable to say why it could not be found when it was fitted with a GPS, saying, "We would also like to know why, but we won't know until we find the helicopter."

He insisted, however, that police had not given up on "Project Heli-eye," as the initiative is called within the force and that further trials would take place if the helicopter could be found.