Some news outlets still identify the drone operators as “Eco-terrorists.” Others mention organized crime. One poice chief suggested that the flying object causing complete chaos at Gatwick Airport last week might not even have been a drone. The U.K. government and military, airport authorities and law enforcement have all committed major resources to the crime: but so far, we have very few answers about who was responsible for last week’s disruptions.
England’s second busiest airport was closed down last Wednesday, December 19, when pilots and airport officials spotted drones “buzzing” over the runways. In order to avoid a collision, flights were canceled. The drones were identified by airport officials as “industrial” drones – larger than most recreational or commercial drones, and potentially more damaging to aircraft. The drones in questions also appear to have a long range – making it more difficult for authorities to identify the operators.
The airport briefly reopened at about 3 am on Thursday morning – but the drones quickly reappeared, forcing the airport to shut down again. Flights were finally resumed on Friday. Despite a significant military and police presence, the operator was not caught, nor were the drones captured: they simply disappeared, having caused maximum disruption to Britains air transportation system during the busiest travel season of the year.
The Arrests – and Releases
Friday night, a British couple were arrested and held for 36 hours for questioning. However, an exhaustive search of the couple’s home and repeated interviews revealed that the two were not involved in the incident. The man, a window installer, was working on a job at the time. Neither of the two own or fly a drone. They have now – unfortunately, after British press released names, addresses and pictures of the pair – been released. (And, we hope, have received an apology.)
The Search Continues
The military presence at Gatwick to secure the runways continues – and so does the search for a culprit. Yesterday, authorities revealed that they have found parts of a damaged drone near the airport. The damaged aircraft is being examined by forensic experts for both digital and DNA evidence that might link the drone to an operator: and police say that they expect results soon.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.