Gatwick Airport shut down by mystery drones with tens of thousands of passengers engulfed in travel chaos

A pair of drones swirling in the skies around London’s Gatwick Airport have wreaked havoc on the travel plans of tens of thousands of passengers who have been delayed, diverted or stuck in the middle of the holiday getaway.

As of midday Thursday at the country’s second-busiest airport, the runways remain shut down. Those affected by the disruption flooded social media with images and videos of restless passengers lining the hallways of its terminals.

The drones were first spotted Wednesday night and more than 100,000 passengers had been scheduled to pass through Gatwick Thursday on 760 arriving and departing flights, an official said.

“We believe this to be a deliberate act to disrupt the airport,” Gatwick Police Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw told Sky News. “However, there are absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror-related.”

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, said that roughly 10,000 people had been affected by the shutdown by Thursday morning — 2,000 whose planes were unable to take off from Gatwick, 2,000 stuck at their points of origin and 6,000 diverted to other airports in Britain, as well as Paris and Amsterdam.

Woodroofe said at least one drone remained in the area Thursday morning.

“As I stand here, there is a drone on my airfield as we speak,” Woodroofe told Sky News, adding that “the police have 20 units out looking for the operator of that drone, and once they find them, they will bring them to justice, which is five years imprisonment for endangering an aircraft.”

One image from the flight-tracking website Flight Radar 24 showed fire trucks and other vehicles combing the runways of the airport looking for the drone. Another video posted on Twitter showed a helicopter flying above Gatwick, inspecting the areas below.

But some on social media are blasting police and airport officials for their handling of the ongoing incident, asking how the devices have managed to disrupt such a large airport for this long.

“I’d be fuming if my flight was suspended by something so petty. Especially at this time of year,” one user posted on Twitter.

“Pathetic. Shoot it down for heaven’s sake,” said another.

Woodroofe says to do that though is not an option, as “the police advice is that it would be dangerous to seek to shoot the drone down because of what may happen to the stray bullets.”

The airport says in the meantime that anyone thinking about heading to Gatwick should reconsider — and that there will be no flights in or out before 4 p.m. local time at the earliest.

“Please do not travel to Gatwick without checking the status of your flight with your airline, as there are significant cancellations and delays today,” a message in a red box at the top of the airport’s website read. “We apologize to all of our passengers who are impacted today, but the safety of our passengers and all staff is our priority.”


Follow Up to Gatwick Airport Drone Chaos:


Mystery saboteur seems to have returned after forcing 36-hour shutdown that is snarling Christmas travel in England.
By Reuters

GATWICK, England — London’s Gatwick Airport suspended flights on Friday just hours after reopening following a 36-hour closure which stranded more than 100,000 Christmas travelers when a mystery saboteur used drones to play cat-and-mouse with police snipers.

Services had resumed at Britain’s second busiest airport early on Friday after suffering its worst disruption since a volcanic ash cloud grounded flights across much of Europe in 2010. Then just 11 hours later they were halted again after reports of another drone flying in the area.

“We have temporarily suspended airfield operations as we investigate the unconfirmed reports of another drone,” an airport spokeswoman said. “Nothing is taking off or landing at the moment.”

Britain deployed unidentified military technology to guard the airport against what transport minister Chris Grayling said were thought to be several drones. “This kind of incident is unprecedented anywhere in the world,” he said.


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