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Gatwick drone: Balloons spotted minutes before airport shut down

Lewis Milton travelled from his home in East London for a day of plane spotting at Gatwick Airport on Sunday when he witnessed “at least seven” balloons rising up into the flight path of departing aircraft.

Not 20 minutes later, the airfield ground to a halt amid fears a drone was flying in its restricted airspace.

He captured the moment the silver inflatable decorations rose from above the treetops less than a mile away from the end of the runway on his YouTube live stream, with over 200 people watching.

Lewis said: “I looked behind me and saw a lot of of balloons rising up from a residential area shortly after 1pm.

“It all happened quite quickly.”

Earlier today, the West Sussex Airport said it did not find a drone in its investigation following the incident – which saw some 12 flights diverted to airports across the country.

Lewis, who listens to the air traffic control on a radio scanner, added: “My immediate concern was the wind direction, and whether it was going to cross the path of a takeoff.

“I was expecting to hear it from ATC but I didn’t hear anything.”

In a dramatic video caught on camera for his YouTube channel London Planespotters, planes can be seen taking off and landing while the balloons edge precariously close to the airport boundaries.

He said it “is understandable” that the balloons could be confused for a drone. He said: “Once you look up into the sky they get lost very quickly, and it was very hard to keep a track of them.

“It didn’t look like they were released on purpose, I can imagine they were used for someone’s birthday and just flew away by accident.

“It was a very bizarre thing to see.”

Lewis noted how Gatwick and Heathrow have both installed anti-drone technology at their airports to prevent a repeat of the 2018 drone incident, which saw over 1,000 flights diverted or cancelled and hundreds of thousands of passengers miss out on their winter getaways.

He added: “You would think they would be able to detect a drone quite easily, so to leave us in the dark – especially after footage like this has come out – is very strange.

The footage was passed onto Gatwick airport, who told Lewis they are using it in their investigation, he said.

A spokeswoman for the airport said: “Following established procedures – operations at London Gatwick were suspended temporarily at 13.44 on 14 May, 2022, while investigations into the sighting of a suspected drone close to the airfield took place.   

 “This investigation followed sightings from a pilot and also airfield staff about a suspected drone close to the flight path of approaching aircraft. 

“Following further investigation, no drone was found and the airfield reopened at 14.35.  All twelve aircraft that were diverted as a result of this incident returned to London Gatwick on Sunday.”

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Written by Townreels


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