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Schoharie Limo Crash: How Drones Are Helping the Investigation

Schoharie Limo Crash: How Drones Are Helping the Investigation

On October 6, 2018, at about 2 pm., a stretch limousine carrying a driver and 17 passengers accidentally departed from a New York roadway at high speed and crashed into a ravine. On October 7, investigators made a drone study of the accident scene that supported a detailed assessment of the roads, road conditions, and the events of the accident. Rather than a review based on maps and ground survey information, the aerial drone survey was precise and quick.


The Schoharie Crash


The incident occurred in Schoharie, NY about 40 miles west of Albany. The event happened at the intersection of US Rte 30 and State Rte 30A. A stretch limousine struck a vacant vehicle and two pedestrians before crashing into a wooded area near a ravine. The results of the crash were catastrophic, the limo driver and all passengers died as a result of the accident. The two pedestrians struck by the limo also died from injuries.


Using Drones to Reconstruct the Event

The NTSB joined state and local authorities in the investigation of the tragic crash. In a critical part of the investigation, the NTSB deployed a drone to make a definitive set of aerial surveys of the scene and precise points in the surrounding area. The use of drone technology for accident reconstruction is a vital part of the NTSB methodology for assessing incidents. The study discovered the exact path of the vehicle just before leaving the roadway.


Drones and Drone Operators

Officials comply with drone safety requirements including permissions before flying in restricted airspace. The NTSB drone pilots have qualifications based on industry standards established for commercial drone operators.


Traffic accident reconstruction is an essential ingredient in the effort to solve the causes of severe motor accidents and to hopefully prevent them in the future. Drone operators must get training to perform accident investigation work. High-quality commercial drone courses prepare graduates for jobs in crime and accident investigations.


Drones Save Time

Drone technology reduces the time needed to prepare the scene, to bring the necessary resources, and to conduct the survey. Operators can prepare an aerial surveillance drone in a matter of minutes and conduct a survey in as little as 20 minutes or as long as needed to survey the entire field. Before the introduction of drone technology, investigators used surveyor’s equipment. Surveys required clearing the accident scene of vehicles, news vehicles, cameras, and all personnel. The process took many hours depending on the size and complexity of the field. During a survey, officials would suspend many other parts of an investigation to keep the field clear.



Drones Add Speed and Accuracy

For a period of years, authorities used ground survey technology to scale distances, elevation, and angles on vertical and horizontal planes. The investigators downloaded information for later analysis and processing.


Drones offer a higher degree of accuracy and flexibility than surveys. Drones capture the scene and as much of the area as may be relevant to the investigation. The scene is not limited by pre-existing mapping. Drones can use photogrammetry to build exact 3-D models. The most important feature is that authorities can review the results immediately.


Commercial drone courses prepares investigative employees to operate aerial reconnaissance drones over accident sites. Drone safety is a key consideration, and the use of drones reduces risks. Some accident sites are unsafe for humans, extremely hazardous, or inaccessible.


The NTSB and Drones

The National Traffic Safety Board conducts investigations of severe accidents and those that involve high risk to public safety. The NTSB has used drones for aerial surveys for more than three years. NTSB began using drones in experimental flights in 2013. By 2016, NTSB received a Part 107 certification, and drone surveys were an established part of investigative protocols. Today, NTSB can routinely get permission to fly in restricted space and uses drones with digital GPS support.



  1. The Daily Gazette, October 8, 2018, “Drone used to map Schoharie limo crash scene.”

  1. The New York Times, October 8,2018, New York Today: Details About Deadly Limo Crash

3.Total Station

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