Drone sightings in Scotts Bluff County generated a number of calls to dispatchers Monday evening, expanding the reach of an unexplained presence in the state in recent weeks.
Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman told the Star-Herald the sheriff’s department had received at least 9 reports of drone sightings. Scottsbluff Police Chief Kevin Spencer said officers with his department also responded to calls of the drone sightings.
On social media and according to scanner traffic, some persons reported seeing as many as 50 drones near the Minatare community. Overman said drone sightings were reported from persons throughout the county “from south of Stegall to north of Mitchell, over Scottsbluff and Gering and into Minatare.” In Scottsbluff, Spencer said, people reported having seen drones in the area of Chili’s restaurant to Regional West Medical Center. Some social media comments indicated drone sightings had also been reported in Sioux County, which would border Scotts Bluff County in some areas.
Spencer said officers did not personally report having seen the drones, however, the department had received videos and photographs of the drones. The videos shared on social media and with Spencer weren’t clear, but show spots of light hovering in the area.
What could be behind the drones? So far, only speculation. On social media, the speculation can be amusing, from aliens, to the concerning, such as monitoring of missile silos in Colorado and Nebraska.
“There has to be an explanation,” Spencer said.
The exact spots of drone appearances are hard to determine, he noted. Depending on your perspective on the ground, the drones would appear to be at specific locations but officers responding to the reports didn’t locate drones. He noted that the height of the drones in the reports wouldn’t result in any privacy issues, but that rules of drone operation are set out in state statutes and federal law.
“We really don’t know who is behind it,” Overman said. “There is nothing more than theories.”
Spencer said there is no indication that there is anything nefarious going on regarding the presence of the drones or the possible intents of any operators.
The drone mystery has been ongoing since mid-December, with reports of drones starting in northeast Colorado and expanding into central Nebraska by Sunday. Additional reports of drone sightings circulated in other Nebraska counties Monday. According to news reports, officials in the eastern Nebraska counties of Jefferson, Saline and York were the latest to also field reports of sightings.
On Monday, authorities from Nebraska attended a meeting of several dozen law enforcement officials in Brush, Colorado. The meeting included the Federal Aviation Administration and a drone task force has been reported to have been formed.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the meeting 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. The FAA reports in a statement that officials have contacted drone companies, drone test sites and companies authorized to operate drones
“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,” Gregor said.
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.
Some comments on social media have suggested shooting down the drones, which officials have said would be a violation of federal law, and is also creates a risk of hitting someone with stray gunfire.
The drones have generated a lot of talk from politicians, including being a topic on Gov. Pete Ricketts weekly call, a statement from Congressman Adrian Smith and Sen. Deb Fischer.
Smith said: “I have reached out to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about finding the source of these unidentified drones and am concerned there seems to be no clear assessment of their source. We must protect the privacy and property rights of Nebraskans. I appreciate the work of federal, state, and local officials to address these concerns and encourage Nebraskans to promptly contact local law enforcement with detailed accounts of confirmed future sightings.”
In a statement on social media, Fischer said she had spoken to FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson, who relayed that there are still no answers about who is using the drones.
“The best thing Nebraskans can do right now is continue to report any drone sightings to law enforcement,” she said.