The mystery drones that have plagued northeast Colorado and southwest Nebraska are moving east — and the Federal Aviation Administration is on their tail.
Nighttime flights by unidentified drones were reported in Hall, Buffalo and Adams counties Sunday evening, less than a week after they lit up the skies above Chase, Perkins, Hitchcock and Lincoln counties.
Grand Island Police Capt. Jim Duering said the drones flying over Grand Island and spotted by officers didn't appear to be involved in criminal activity, but they aren't registered locally, so it remains a mystery who is flying them. They appeared to be large, commercial models that would require a license to operate, he said.
Hastings Police Capt. Mike Doremus said a pilot reported seeing several drones flying in a grid formation about 2 miles west of Hastings at about 9 p.m. Sunday.
Buffalo County Sheriff Neil Miller said three reports of drones flying in his county came in between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday. Deputies were tracking the locations of the reports to try to identify who is flying the drones, he said.
Lincoln police have fielded no reports of sightings, a spokeswoman said Monday.
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The drones reportedly have 6-foot wingspans and fly in grid-like patterns hundreds of feet in the air in groups of six to 10, officials say. The Federal Aviation Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army Forces Command have said they do not have information about the aircraft. Sheriff's officials say it appears that no laws are being broken.
The FAA met with law enforcement agencies and other government officials Monday in Colorado, and said it was trying to determine who is piloting the drones, and why.
“We take every drone-sighting report seriously," the FAA said in a statement after Monday's meeting. “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."
The FAA said it has contacted drone test site operators and drone companies but has not determined if they were behind the flights. The agency also has been in touch with airports in the area, warning pilots to be cautious and asking them to report any sightings.
Meanwhile, the Phillips County Sheriff's Office in northeastern Colorado posted on Facebook that a task force has been organized and is asking the public to be on the lookout for a “command vehicle” that is operating the drones. The vehicle could be a closed box trailer with antennas or a large van that seems out of place, the post said.
Drone pilots are not required to file flight plans unless they are in controlled airspace, such as near an airport.
Phillips County Sheriff Thomas Elliott told The Denver Post in December that the drones remain about 200 to 300 feet in the air and fly steadily in square patterns of about 25 miles.