Call them UFOs.
Unclaimed Flying Objects.
Reports of groups of drones in the night sky over Colorado and Nebraska began in mid-December 2019. A couple of days into 2020, we know no more about them than we did weeks ago.
This is everything we do know about the mysterious drones, and what we still hope to find out.
WHEN WAS THE FIRST DRONE SIGHTING REPORTED?
The Phillips County Sheriff’s Office, in the northeast corner of Colorado, first started the drone conversation. They posted on Facebook about the calls to their department on Dec. 20.
More reports from rural eastern Colorado have come in since.
WHERE EXACTLY HAVE THEY BEEN SPOTTED?
In addition to Phillips, reports from residents and law enforcement say these drones have been seen over Lincoln, Morgan, Sedgwick, Washington, and Yuma counties. According to The Lincoln Star in Nebraska, drones also flew over the southwest part of that state. Their article names Chase, Hitchlock, Lincoln and Perkins counties.
WHO OWNS THEM?
We don’t know. So, we also don’t know the reason they’re flying.
National and local news outlets are covering the drones, and people are posting about it all over social media. No agency, company or person has come forward to claim them.
WHO DOESN’T OWN THEM?
We’ve asked around, and none of the agencies we’ve talked to call the drones theirs. Amazon, NORAD, Buckley Air Force Base… the list goes on. All nos.
COULD IT BE A RANDOM PERSON TRYING TO SCARE PEOPLE?
Again, we don’t know who owns them, but these don’t appear to be hobbyist drones.
Washington County Sheriff Jon Stivers said he’s gotten reports of drones as wide as 6 feet.
“It is concerning because you know, one of the reports I had last night was that the drone is way bigger than 6 [feet]; it sounds like a small jet engine when it’s flying,” Stivers said. “These are not drones that people in our county can just buy.”
Keep in mind, hobbyists are probably still flying the new drones they got for Christmas. Not every drone in the sky is one of the large mystery drones.
WHAT ARE THE DRONES DOING?
They’re flying at night.
They seem to fly in patterns: “They were kind of flying in a grid out in the towns, out in the county, you’d see three or four flying in a line out in the East in the county,” Stivers said.
Yuma County Sheriff Todd Combs wrote on Facebook that he guesses the drones are staying 150 to 200 feet away from any buildings.
The Phillips County Sheriff’s Office said they don’t suspect these drones to be “malicious.”
ARE DRONES ALLOWED TO FLY AT NIGHT?
Not every drone owner can fly after dark. Drones can fly at night, however, with the proper waiver -- waiver 107.29 -- from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA has given out a few thousand nighttime operation waivers. They're available to law enforcement and various businesses.
Sheriffs in Colorado said they have not seen these drones acting illegally.
WHAT DOES THE FAA HAVE TO SAY ABOUT IT?
The FAA has gone from saying a little about the drones to virtually nothing.
Friday, Dec. 27, an FAA spokesman said they had "no FAA drone reports in Colorado matching this." The FAA referred 9NEWS to the military, suggesting they truly were in the dark.
Dec. 30, we asked whether the operators have filed required FAA permits. Another FAA spokesman said he didn't "have any knowledge about the type of operation that allegedly took place."
Later that same day, the FAA said: "We're in contact with local law enforcement, but we don't have any concrete information to act on at this time."
Dec. 3, the FAA confirmed an active federal investigation. They then told us they couldn't comment on open investigations.
Jan. 2, the Sedgwick County sheriff canceled a planned interview with 9NEWS after talking with the FAA. He did say that sheriffs will meet with the agency on Monday, Jan. 6, and the law enforcement agencies will issue a joint news release after.
DO COLORADO LAWMAKERS KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON?
Doesn’t seem like it.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said: “I’ve been in contact with the FAA and I’m encouraged that they’ve opened a full investigation to learn the source and purpose of the drones. I will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said: "As soon as I heard about the sightings, I asked our Department of Public Safety to find out what was going on. I’m actively monitoring the reports of drone sightings in eastern Colorado and share the expressed concerns of law enforcement and local residents. I haven’t yet received any substantial information beyond what has been reported. While it remains a mystery who is flying these drones and why, it’s certain they have caused a bit of a stir and I want to get to the bottom of it and make sure that no person or property is at risk."
CAN YOU SHOOT THEM DOWN?
That is all kinds of illegal.
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