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British army called in to hunt drones that left flights grounded at Gatwick

Two drones were first seen flying over the Gatwick Airport airfield at around 9pm yesterday evening.

Image: Victoria Jones via PA Images

Updated Dec 20th 2018, 9:20 PM

THE UK Has called in the army to help police hunt a drone pilot who grounded all flights from Gatwick airport, leaving thousands stranded on one of the busiest days of the year.

The airport closed its only runway late last night following “reports of two drones flying in and around the airfield” and further sightings today, according to Gatwick’s CEO Stewart Wingate.

The closure, which remains in place at the time of writing, stranded tens of thousands of travellers days before Christmas – and prompted the unusual military operation.

Sightings of two drones flying over the Gatwick Airport airfield were made at around 9pm yesterday evening, the airfield was closed until 3.01am while the situation was investigated alongside Sussex Police. 

However, after further sightings of drone in the vicinity of the airport, the runway was closed again from 3.45am. 

The shutdown has led to a number of flights being diverted to other airports while aircraft have been unable to depart from Gatwick. 

Some 10,000 passengers were affected last night, and a further 110,000 were due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights today.

“Our airlines are working to provide affected passengers with hotel accommodation or transport passengers landing at other airports to Gatwick by other means, and Gatwick staff are looking after passengers in our terminals,” the airport said in a statement this morning. 

The airport has this afternoon said that flights will remain cancelled up to at least 4pm today, while the situation is reviewed. 

‘A deliberate act’

More than 20 police units from two forces have been searching for those responsible.

“We believe this to be a deliberate act to disrupt the airport. However, there are absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror-related,” said Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw of the local Sussex Police force.

“Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears.”

Gatwick Airport added: “There is a significant disruption as a result of what appears to be a deliberate attempt to disrupt flights.

We are extremely disappointed that passengers are being affected, especially at this time of year.

Britain Gatwick Airport Drones People wait near the departures gate at Gatwick Airport as flights remain cancelled or delayed Source: Tim Ireland via PA Images

Anyone flying from Gatwick Airport, or following someone from the airport today, is being asked to check the status of their flight. 

“Unfortunately, there are significant delays and cancellations to all flights today,” it said. 

“Please do not travel to the airport without checking the status of your flight with your airline first. We apologise to everyone affected, but the safety of all our passengers and staff is our no.1 priority.” 

Dublin Airport has said that “passengers travelling to Gatwick Airport should check with their airline”. 

A Shannon Airport spokesperson has also confirmed that the airport facilitated a number of diversions due to the temporary closure of Gatwick. 

“At this time, we are unaware of the respective airlines intentions for these passengers onward travel plans. Further diversions may be expected,” the spokesperson said. 

Shannon Airport’s own flight service is operating to schedule. 

Under British law, drones cannot be flown near aircraft or within a kilometre of an airport, or at an altitude of over 400 feet. Those breaking the law could face up to five years in prison.

Gatwick Airport serves more than 228 destinations in 74 countries for 45 million passengers a year. 

Under British legislation, drones cannot be flown near aircraft or airports, or at an altitude of over 400 feet.

With reporting by AFP. 

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