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Sussex chief: Some drone sightings at Gatwick may have been of police drones

Over 100,000 people were left stranded at the airport a few days before Christmas because of a reported drone sighting.

Passengers queue for flights at Gatwick Airport as the airport and airlines work to clear the backlog of flights.
Passengers queue for flights at Gatwick Airport as the airport and airlines work to clear the backlog of flights.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

A POLICE CHIEF in charge of the investigation of a drone disruption at London’s Gatwick Airport that shut down the busy airport just days before Christmas says he’s sure there was a drone disrupting flights.

Sussex Police Chief Giles York told BBC Radio 4′s Today show that the investigation had been a “very thorough response” to an “unprecedented and challenging event”.

He said that police had searched up to 26 potential launch sites near the airport but do not believe they have yet found the drone that flew near the runway on Wednesday 19 and Thursday 20 December.

I do not think we have found the drone responsible for this at this time.

He said that the police had received 115 reports of sightings of a drone in the area, and they were cross referencing this information: “We’re getting closer to being able to identify the model”.

York added he is “absolutely certain that there was a drone flying throughout the period that the airport was closed.”

He made this assertion after he was asked whether false sightings closed the airport on the Friday after the first sighting:

“I’m absolutely certain that the presence of the drone was there… We have been able to corroborate 115 reports, 92 of them are from credible people that we’ve been able to confirm.

“Because sometimes, you will have been in an airport, being able to judge pairs of lights, moving at a distance whatever it is…

One of the other things is we would have launched our own Sussex police drones at the time with a view to investigate, with a view to engage, so there could be some level of confusion there as well. 

The airport’s closure led to more than 100,000 people being stranded or delayed in the run up to Christmas.

No one has been found responsible, and York says he is “sorry” about the arrest of two people suspected of involvement who were subsequently cleared.

- with reporting from AP.

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