A newly formed task force is on the hunt for a “command vehicle” that might be controlling the mysterious clusters of drones that witnesses say have been flying grid patterns in northeast Colorado and western Nebraska most nights for several weeks.
The command vehicle could be a “closed box trailer with antennas or a large van,” the Phillips County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Monday, hours after about 75 people from a variety of state, local and federal agencies met in Brush to discuss the ongoing situation.
Anyone who spots such a potential command vehicle is asked to call local law enforcement.
“That’s something we can handle,” Lincoln County sheriff’s Captain Michaell Yowell said. “That’s something on the ground. A drone 500 feet in the air, we can’t do much about that. A suspicious vehicle in the middle of a county road is something we absolutely can.”
The drones, estimated to have 6-foot wingspans, have been spotted flying in groups — sometimes in clusters of six to 10 — in grid formations over mostly rural areas and have raised widespread concern because no one knows who is flying the machines.
Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the U.S. Army, the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and a wide variety of local law enforcement agencies stretching from Nebraska to Colorado Springs attended Monday’s meeting, Yowell said.
“It was a packed room,” he said. “It was spilling out into the hallway.”
A representative from U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s office also attended.
Attendees hammered out a plan for investigating the drones and sharing information between agencies during the about 90-minute meeting, Yowell said.
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“We left very hopeful that some answers are going to start to emerge,” he said, adding that no particular theory about the drones’ origin was agreed on during the meeting.
“We were definitely all in the same boat,” he said. “We’re desperately trying to figure out what is going on.”
Yuma County Sheriff Todd Combs said in a statement Monday that he attended the meeting and that FAA officials seem stumped.
“The FAA appears to be baffled by the sightings also, stating unless a drone operator is identified, they have no recourse planned as of now,” he said.
Lt. Jon Carkhuff, a spokesman for F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, said Monday that the drones aren’t flying from the base.
“They’re not from F.E. Warren and they are not part of our counter-drone system,” he said. “We do not know where they are coming from, but we are cooperating with the FAA and the FBI and numerous police departments to find out what those sightings are.”
Already, the FAA has contacted test sites, drone companies and companies that have received authorization to operate drones in the affected areas. But the agency has not been able to determine who is flying the aircraft, spokesman Ian Gregor said in a statement Monday.
The FAA also asked area airports and pilots to report sightings or people they see operating the drones from the ground.
“We are in contact with federal law enforcement and national security partners to discuss potential ways they can assist in identifying who may be operating these aircraft,” Gregor said.
Yowell said he is certain the reported sightings are not mistakes.
“The reports we’ve taken in Lincoln County, these are law enforcement officer confirmed sightings,” he said. “These drones are in the area of Lincoln County. They’re not mistakes. We can’t speak to why someone wouldn’t come forward and say, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ ”
A wide range of agencies has told The Denver Post that the drones are not theirs, including the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the University of Colorado Boulder.
Others that have denied the operation to The Post include a smattering of private drone companies, oil and gas companies including Extraction Oil & Gas, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Army Forces Command, Fort Carson, Intel and Amazon, among others.
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