London Gatwick Airport Flights Halted After New Suspected Drone Sighting

Flights had resumed earlier Friday after military resources were brought in -- but were halted again following a new suspected sighting at 5:10 pm on Friday.

London Gatwick Airport Flights Halted After New Suspected Drone Sighting

Passengers at the South Terminal building at Gatwick Airport. (Reuters)

Gatwick Airport:

Flights were suspended again Friday at London Gatwick Airport due to a fresh suspected drone sighting, in a third day of Christmas getaway misery that has left tens of thousands of passengers stranded.

Drones were first sighted hovering around Britain's second-busiest air hub on Wednesday, grinding the runway to a standstill and causing chaos for more than 120,000 people.

Flights had resumed earlier Friday after military resources were brought in -- but were halted again following a new suspected sighting at 5:10 pm (1710 GMT).

"We have currently suspended airfield operations as a precaution due to a suspected drone sighting," a Gatwick spokeswoman said.

Police are still hunting for the drone operator or operators.

At the start of the day, a Gatwick spokesman said that 91 of Friday's 412 scheduled arrivals had been cancelled, while 64 of 371 scheduled departures had also been scrapped.

Passengers, many trying to get home for Christmas or to start their holidays, were advised to check the status of their flights before travelling to the airport.

Gatwick's chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe earlier told BBC radio that the airport was only able to reopen its sole runway due to the "additional mitigating measures" provided by government agencies and the military.

The army was called in on Thursday to offer support, with the defence ministry deploying what was described only as specialist equipment.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC that "military capabilities were being deployed".

"There are a range of measures which are there today which should give passengers confidence that they are safe to fly," he said earlier Friday when the runway was open.

Government officials held an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the situation.

Cat and mouse chase

There have been more than 50 sightings of the device or devices since 9:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Wednesday and shooting down the drone is now an option, said Jason Tingley of Sussex Police

"We will do what we can to take that drone out of the sky and remove that disruption," he said.

Justin Burtenshaw, head of armed policing for Sussex and Surrey said on Thursday: "Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears. When we look to reopen the airfield the drone reappears".

Sussex Police Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry said officers were working on the theory there was more than one drone.

The previous last sighting had been at around 10:00 pm (2200 GMT) on Thursday.

Driving to Portugal instead

Some 10,000 passengers were affected on Wednesday night, and a further 110,000 who had been due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights Thursday.

Fons Braden, a Portuguese man working and studying in London, saw his flight scrapped on Friday.

"They said the flight was delayed at first. We still stand in the queue, no other information. And then half an hour before our flight was supposed to depart, they said, well, the flight is cancelled'," he told AFP.

"I just work around the corner in cars," he said, adding that the easiest solution might be "to drive to Portugal."

Mike, from London, had his flight cancelled on Friday and will miss his connection to Ghana.

"We're in limbo. We don't actually know when we'll be flying out at all because we haven't been promised a rescheduled flight, we haven't been promised any further information, any compensation. Nothing at all."

Darcis, 32, who was supposed to arrive from Milan on Thursday and had to sleep at the airport, said: "I cannot understand why such a small thing can cause an international airport like Gatwick (to close). They should be ready for these things. I really don't understand what we can do."

The drama dominated Britain's newspapers on Friday, with speculation that an eco-activist was responsible.

Gatwick, around 30 miles (50 kilometres) south of the British capital, is the eighth-busiest airport in Europe and sits behind Mumbai as the world's busiest single runway air hub.

Inbound flights were diverted to other airports, including Paris, while passengers waiting to take off faced gruelling delays.

Under a new British law, drones cannot be flown near aircraft or within a kilometre of an airport, or at an altitude of over 400 feet (122 metres).

Violators face up to five years in prison for endangering an aircraft.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)