Police have said armed officers are now involved in the operation to halt drones that have kept Gatwick closed for more than 14 hours amid a suggestion they may attempt to shoot the crafts out of the sky.
Armed police were photographed near to the runway on Thursday afternoon as investigators tried to locate the individual disrupting Britain’s second-busiest airport.
Tens of thousands of passengers have been affected by delays and cancellations as drones are repeatedly flown overhead in what police say is a “deliberate” attempt to prevent airport operations.
A spokesman for Sussex Police told The Independent the force had armed units stationed at Gatwick Airport 24 hours a day.
He added that armed officers would be part of any operation to stop the drones, which first grounded aircraft at around 9pm on Wednesday evening after flying over the perimeter fence and close to the runway.
Reports had surfaced that police would be attempting to shoot the devices out of the sky. Sussex Police would not disclose further details of armed officers' operations.
More than 20 units from two separate police forces are now hunting the pilot of the drones, who is believed to have caused disruption on a scale that will take Gatwick several days to recover from.
Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw described attempts to catch whoever is controlling the gadgets as “painstaking”, admitting it was “a difficult and challenging thing to locate them”.
“Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears,” he added.
A Gatwick spokesman said the airport expects chaos to roll over into Friday, which is one of its busiest days of the year due to the number of people aiming to catch flights before Christmas.
“We are prioritising the welfare of passengers during this very difficult time, and have teams across the airport looking after them as best we can,” he added.
Passengers faced severe disruption as flights were unable to leave the tarmac, while others were diverted to alternative airports.
Some people reported being left stuck on planes for several hours while they waited to find out what was going on.
Luke McComiskie’s plane ended up in Manchester, and he described chaotic scenes as people tried to find their way home after more than three hours stuck on board.
“We got told there would be some arrangements with coaches for us when we get out the terminal,” he said. “It was just chaos and they had only two coaches and taxis charging people £600 to get to Gatwick.”
Additional reporting by PA
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