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Who’s flying the drones?

It’s still a mystery waiting to be solved

Drone sightings in Perkins and Chase counties continue to be reported, according to sheriffs in both counties.

Perkins County Chief Deputy Scott Miller attended a meeting Monday on the issue, held in Brush, Colorado. Approximately 75 people from 20-25 different law enforcement agencies, along with Federal Aviation Administration personnel and the FBI were present.

The FAA released a statement outlining the actions they have taken thus far.

The statement reads: “We take every drone-sighting report seriously. Multiple FAA divisions are working closely with federal, state and local stakeholders to determine whether the reported sightings in Colorado and Nebraska are drones and, if so, who is operating them and for what reason. Earlier today (Monday), various agencies met and shared information about how to effectively collaborate. The FAA has taken a number of actions:

-Contacted FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) test sites, drone companies and companies that are authorized to operate drones in those areas. We have not determined the source of the reported drone flights.

-Contacted General Aviation airports in the affected counties to ensure they are aware of the sightings; to ask pilots to be cautious and to report sightings; and to report any people they see operating drones.

-Working with federal and local law enforcement and national security partners to discuss ways to identify who may be operating these aircraft.

We will continue to collaborate closely with our partners at the federal, state and local levels on our identification efforts.”

Chase County Sheriff Kevin Mueller said a task force was organized at the meeting which will help in sharing resources and information about the drone sightings

A statement released by the Chase County Sheriff’s Office on their Facebook page said deputies have been investigating drone sightings since Dec. 28.

The drones in question aren’t toys.

“We’re estimating a five or six-foot wingspan,” Mueller said. “Apparently, there’s a couple that appeared to be larger, about a 12-foot wingspan on those. They’re not your average, everyday hobbyist, run-of-the-mill drones. They’re obviously high-tech, very expensive drones.”

With one exception, sightings have been at night. Mueller said they seem to start after sunset, peak between 8 and 10:30 p.m. and then slow down, although there are some reports of late-night sightings.

They are almost always seen in groups; the largest group reported was 15, he said.

The drones are estimated to be flying at 300 to 500 feet, and perhaps traveling at 40 to 50 mph.

“I don’t know how accurate that is, because it’s hard to judge the speed of something that’s up in the air,” he said.

There are lights on the drones, but they are not shining lights onto the ground below, he said.

It’s difficult to tell what the drones are looking at, because their flight paths vary, he said.

“They’ve not really done anything. Sometimes they move in a pattern, sometimes it’s a sporadic pattern. There’s no rhyme or reason to how they’re moving. (Sometimes) they seem like they’d be doing a grid pattern, and sometimes it’s just a random pattern,” he said.

“We get calls into the 911 center, social media and calls on our cell phones, but I can tell you it’s almost daily that we receive multiple calls of drone sightings,” Mueller said.

More sightings

The sightings aren’t limited to Chase County. 

They started in Colorado, as far west as Sterling and Fort Morgan, and have continued east across Nebraska, most recently reported in Aurora, Grand Island and Hastings.

Hastings Police confirmed reports of drone sightings on Sunday near Juniata, Westbrook and near the Hastings airport.

“We’ve not had anybody come forward, which I find strange in a way,” Mueller said. 

“There’s been enough attention brought to this that surely these companies know they’re being spotted in this area,” he said.

Spokespersons with the FAA, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army Forces Command all have said they do not have information about the aircraft. 

Law officers haven’t been able to get answers, either. 

Multiple companies have also made public announcements that the drones are not theirs, including UAV Recon of Colorado and Paragon Geophysical Services out of Wichita, Kansas.

A spokesman for Paragon Geophysical Services said last week that the company hasn’t flown its battery-powered drone for several weeks after losing its drone pilot and because the cold weather hurts performance of the drone.


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