Gatwick airport drones disruption wasn't all for nothing, UK police insist

Drone sightings disrupted travel for 36 hours

By BIANCA BRITTON AND HILARY CLARKE, CNN
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Passengers wait in the South Terminal building at London Gatwick Airport after flights resumed Dec. 21, 2018, in London.

(CNN) - British police are carrying out a forensic examination of a damaged drone that was found near London's Gatwick Airport, as they investigate the cause of incidents that caused widespread disruption.

The damaged device was discovered in Horley, near the perimeter of Gatwick, Britain's second-biggest airport, police said.

Sussex Police said Monday they were investigating "numerous illegal drone sightings," after earlier appearing to raise the possibility that a drone might not have been flown near the UK's second-biggest airport in the first place.

Police told the government the confusion was down to "poor communications," the UK's Press Association reported.

The pre-Christmas travel plans of about 150,000 passengers were hit hard during 36 hours of disruption.

Two people arrested near Gatwick were released without charge on Sunday. Police said the 47-year-old man and 54-year-old woman had co-operated fully and were no longer suspects. A number of UK newspapers named the couple.

The cause of the disruption remained unclear on Monday.

In a Sky News interview Sunday, Tingley raised the possibility that there may have never been a drone flown close to Gatwick in the first place. "Of course, that's a possibility. We are working with human beings saying they have seen something," he said.

Clarifying the police position on Monday, Tingley said police were "actively investigating" 67 reports of drones between December 19 to December 21 from members of the public, passengers, police officers and airport staff. Detectives were interviewing those who reported drone sightings and carrying out house-to-house inquiries, he said.

In a second statement Monday, Sussex Police moved harder to quash suggestions that the disruption may have been for nothing. "We can unequivocally state that there have been numerous illegal drone sightings at the airport over three days from December 19 to 21," Sussex Police Deputy Chief Constable Jo Shiner said.

"There were numerous reports clustered around 37 occasions where a drone or drones were seen and I am keen for those responsible to be brought to justice," Shiner added.

Gatwick Airport has offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the drones that disrupted flights for two days affecting about 150,000 passengers.

The incident revealed how vulnerable the UK airport system is to disruption and even attacks by drones.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, UK security minister Ben Wallace said al Qaeda, the terror group behind the 9/11 attacks, was plotting to carry out new atrocities against airports and airliners.

The newspaper quoted security sources saying sketches of drones designed to deliver bombs were discovered during a recent terrorist investigation in the UK.

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