LINCOLN — The mystery of the unidentified flying drones deepened Monday as new sightings moved eastward into central Nebraska and puzzled law enforcement officials gathered in northeast Colorado.
Even callers to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ monthly radio show were seeking answers.
“We’re being inundated with these drones. They’re starting to be a real annoyance,” said one caller, Byron from Palisade, a southwest Nebraska community west of McCook.
The governor had no information to give but expressed confidence that officials would get to the bottom of the mystery. He also warned callers against trying to shoot down the drones.
Since mid-December, groups of large drones, some flying in grid-like formations, have been spotted buzzing over rural parts of northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska at night. On Sunday night, there were sightings in the central Nebraska counties of Hall, Buffalo and Adams, as well as south of Madrid, in Perkins County, about 27 miles from the Colorado border.
Chief Deputy Perkins County Sheriff Jeffrey Miller said that a Monday meeting of several dozen law enforcement officials in Brush, Colorado, provided few clues as to who is behind the drone flights.
“At this point in time, there’s still no clear idea who is operating these,” he said after the meeting. “I can tell you that the powers that be and the agencies involved are working diligently and using all resources to narrow things down.”
The northeast Colorado meeting, he said, included representatives of the Nebraska State Patrol as well as sheriff’s offices in Deuel, Lincoln and Chase Counties, along with several Colorado law enforcement agencies and the Federal Aviation Administration.
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“Multiple FAA divisions are working closely with federal, state and local stakeholders to try to determine whether the reported sightings in Colorado and Nebraska are drones and, if so, who is operating them and for what reason,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.
The meeting in Brush, Gregor said, was held to share information and to discuss how to most effectively work together to discover what’s behind the drone flights, which do not appear malicious.
Speculation has ranged from companies prospecting for oil and gas to drone pilots practicing for air shows. The FAA has ruled out the military or other government agencies and has not found any licensed, private companies flying drones.
After Monday’s meeting, the Phillips County (Colorado) Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook that a drone task force had been organized and that the public should be on the lookout for a “command vehicle.”
“We are looking for a closed box trailer with antennas or a large van that does not belong in the area,” the post said.
Sunday night’s sightings near Grand Island, Kearney and Hastings are the farthest east that drones have been seen. The sightings began in northeast Colorado and have spread eastward.
Hastings Police Capt. Mike Doremus said a pilot reported seeing a number of drones flying in a grid formation about 2 miles west of Hastings about 9 p.m. Sunday.
Buffalo County Sheriff Neil Miller said three reports of drones flying in his county were fielded between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday.
Miller, the Perkins County deputy, said the public should report any sightings to law enforcement, so they can be vetted, before rushing to post them on Facebook.
One caller to Ricketts’ radio show Monday, Gene from Lexington, suggested that “the fastest way to get anybody’s attention is to drop three to four of those rascals.”
But Ricketts and other officials said shooting down a drone would not only be against the law, but also might cause property damage or endanger the public.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
A previous version of this story included an incorrect first name for Byron of Palisade, a caller to Gov. Pete Ricketts' monthly radio show.
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Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.