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Apache attack helicopters assist Essex Police in hunt for Stansted Airport drone

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Two Apache attack helicopters spotted a drone flying above Stansted Airport and helped police arrest a suspect.

After the Army Air Corps gunships reported the airborne object, about 1,000ft above the eastern threshold of the runway, the lead pilot turned back to confirm the sighting and help officers track the intruder.

The incident is detailed in a newly published report by the UK Airprox Board. An 'airprox' is a situation where a pilot or air traffic controller believes the distance and speed between aircraft may have compromised their safety. Drone incidents are included in their investigations.

Apache helicopter (43294840)
Apache helicopter (43294840)

The panel of experts was told the lead Apache pilot spotted the drone "at 12 o'clock" and alerted the second chopper, which turned left to avoid and confirmed the sighting. The pilots then sent a grid reference to Stansted air traffic control.

The report says: "The formation lead offered the option to turn back and confirm the sighting; Number 2 remained clear to the north. The drone was again identified.

"Essex Radar requested them to remain on scene with freedom of manoeuvre to provide assistance to the police in finding and tracking the object.

Stansted Airport
Stansted Airport

"The drone remained largely static, climbing to about 2,500ft and moving away slowly to the south-east towards Great Dunmow. The lead Apache remained on scene for about 30 minutes until the object was assessed clear of the runway."

It is believed the £35m AgustaWestland Apaches, whose combat role is to hunt and destroy tanks, were en route to their base at Wattisham in Suffolk – the biggest centralised operational Army airfield in the UK.

After reviewing the pilots' evidence, the board considered the incident was a situation where, although safety had been reduced, there had been no risk of collision.

This week a spokesman for Essex Police said: "We arrested a man on suspicion of causing a public nuisance and recklessly endangering aircraft after a drone was spotted within the boundaries of Stansted Airport on Tuesday September 15.

"We received reports at around 5.10pm concerning a drone in the airport's airspace and quickly acted, meaning the airport was only disrupted for 30 minutes.

"A 41-year-old man was arrested on Wednesday September 16 and has been released under investigation. Our enquiries remain ongoing."

In March 2019, the restriction on flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones around any airport or airfield runway in the UK was extended from 1km to 5km.

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