LINCOLN — Perkins County Sheriff Jim Brueggeman called it one of the strangest things he’s ever seen in 27 years in law enforcement.
Hovering in the distance south of Grant, Nebraska, on Monday evening was a group of eight to 10 drones, with red and green lights on their wings and white landing lights on their noses.
Unusual sightings of formations of drones, first reported in northeast Colorado two weeks ago, appear to be spreading into southwest Nebraska, according to Brueggeman and the sheriff in nearby Dundy County.
What they’re up to is a good question, Brueggeman said.
“We’re investigating it as we speak,” he said Tuesday. “We’re trying to get to the bottom of who they belong to and what the purpose of these flights is.”
Sightings of squadrons of large drones, with 6-foot wingspans and flying in formations of six to 10, were first reported in northeast Colorado in mid-December. The drones are described as much larger than “hobby” drones.
There’s been speculation that the drones are operated by companies surveying the area for natural gas or oil, or someone practicing for an air show.
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The Associated Press reported that the U.S. military has denied that the drones belong to them. The Federal Aviation Administration said that it is “in contact with local law enforcement but we don’t have any concrete information to act on at this time.”
Sheriffs in Nebraska and Colorado have said that though they don’t suspect any nefarious intent behind the drone flights, they are seeking more information.
Dundy County Sheriff Justin Nichols said he’s working with FAA officials and sheriffs agencies in Colorado after one of his deputy emergency managers spotted six or seven drones on Monday night just outside Benkelman. It was one of two drone reports fielded by his office on Monday night.
Brueggeman said that one of his former dispatchers was able to capture one group of drones on video on Monday night south of Brandon, Nebraska, which is about 7 miles from the Colorado border. Some local people were using Facebook to indicate where the drones could be seen, he said, adding that deputies could not confirm a report Tuesday morning that a drone had landed near Grant.
“I think they’re legitimately being reported and being sighted,” the sheriff said.
The drone story caught fire on Dec. 20, when the Sheriff’s Office in Phillips County, Colorado — which is just southwest of Perkins County, Nebraska — posted on Facebook that it was investigating multiple reports of drone sightings in the county over the previous week.
Phillips County “deputies were out all night this evening along with Yuma County (deputies) tracking these drones. Tonight we tracked over 16 drones between the two counties. We believe that the drones, though startling, are not malicious in nature,” the post read.
The drone mania has spawned some false reports.
Initial news reports that the drone clusters had been spotted in Deuel County, Nebraska, were untrue, according to Deuel County Sheriff Scott DeCoste.
“I’ve spent yesterday and today on the phone,” DeCoste said on Tuesday, talking with reporters seeking information about the sightings.
He said that one of his deputies, who lives in Julesburg, Colorado, did see some drones there, which might have spawned the false reports that they were also seen in his county, which is where Interstates 80 and 76 intersect.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing them,” DeCoste said. “(But) we’ve got nothing cool to report.”