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Bloomberg News, Published March 05 2013

FBI investigating unmanned aircraft near JFK airport

NEW YORK — The FBI said it's investigating an unmanned aircraft spotted by a pilot on an arriving flight Monday near John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking the public's help in identifying and locating the craft, which came within about 200 feet of an Alitalia flight, said John Giacalone, special agent in charge of counterterrorism for the FBI's New York office. The craft was described as black and no more than three feet wide, with four propellers, according to the FBI.

“Our paramount concern is the safety of aircraft passengers and crew,” Giacalone said. The Alitalia plane was about three miles from Kennedy Airport's runway 31R when the incident occurred, the FBI said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating a report from a pilot at an unspecified international carrier who claimed to have seen “a small unmanned or remote-controlled aircraft,” the agency said in an email.

The pilot said the drone was at about 1,500 feet altitude. The plane didn't take evasive action and landed without incident, according to the FAA.

“The captain of Alitalia flight 608 from Rome to New York JFK, Sergio Blazon, and his co-pilot spotted an orange object, which appeared to be a ‘drone’ aircraft, during the landing phase,” John Di Rienzo, a New York spokesman for Rome-based Alitalia, said in an e-mail. “The Alitalia crew landed the Boeing 777 safely, and, as per procedure, immediately alerted air traffic controllers.”

“We saw a drone, a drone aircraft,” the pilot said in a radio call to the airport tower, according to a recording on the LiveATC.net website, which posts air-traffic radio calls from around the U.S.

When the controller asked the pilot's altitude, he replied, “About one-thousand five hundred.”

Later, the controller issued a warning to other aircraft, saying, “Caution, report of a drone on about a five-mile final.”

Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, referred calls to the FAA. The New York City Police Department said it had no information about the incident.