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FAA clears helicopter pilot accused of disturbing protected birds at Shell Key

A federal investigation continues into a helicopter pilot accused of disturbing protected nesting areas of black skimmer birds at Shell Key.

But Kissimmee pilot Preston Ewen has been cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration. Ewen was hired to help film Sea-Doo watercraft promotions and ads.

Ewen, who apologized for making a mistake, committed no violations, according to FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

While Ewen admitted flying 100 feet above the barrier island, the FAA standards allow helicopters to go below the 500-foot minimum.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating whether the migratory birds — protected because nesting sites are limited — were disturbed and whether penalties such as fines or jail time is warranted.

Also, county officials say they continue to review how the incident occurred. The county can't regulate airspace, though pets and alcohol are banned at Shell Key. Crews had the standard free permits to film, and received a warning about the protected nesting grounds.

However, some members of the county's advisory Environmental Science Forum said Thursday that better communication is needed with the county film office, and urged the county to better monitor what's allowed in preserves.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

FAA clears helicopter pilot accused of disturbing protected birds at Shell Key 07/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 16, 2010 10:26pm]
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