A drone that almost struck an aircraft approaching Gatwick put 130 lives at risk, a pilot has said.

The drone passed over the right wing of the Airbus A319 as it was preparing to land, according to the UK Airprox Board (UKAB), which investigates near-misses.

It was described as “very large, certainly not a toy”, with four blades and a diameter of one metre.

The first officer on the aircraft told investigators that the “startle factor of the drone’s proximity” nearly caused him to disconnect the autopilot and take avoiding action.

The aircraft landed safely but the UKAB warned: “A larger aircraft might not have missed it, and in the captain’s opinion it had put 130 lives at risk.”

The incident on July 9 was classed as having the highest degree of risk because “providence had played a major part” in a collision being avoided.

The airline involved and the origin of the aircraft were not identified by the UKAB.

Steve Landells, flight safety specialist from pilots’ union Balpa, described the incident as “another worrying near-miss that could have ended in tragedy”, The Times reported.