Updated 12/23/18 9:30 a.m. ET: Sussex Police have released the two suspects arrested in connection to the drone incident at Gatwick Airport without charge, Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley said.
“Both people have fully co-operated with our [inquiries] and I am satisfied that they are no longer suspects in the drone incidents at Gatwick,” Tingley said in a statement. “Our inquiry continues at a pace to locate those responsible for the drone incursions, and we continue to actively follow lines of investigation.”
Earlier: Following a drone incident that grounded planes and disrupted operations at the UK’s second-largest airport just days ahead of Christmas, officials say they have made two arrests in connection with the event.
Large drones appeared over London’s Gatwick Airport on Wednesday, resulting in chaos during one of the busiest travel times of the year. Sussex Police now say they arrested a 54-year-old woman and 47-year-old man, both of whom were said to be from neighboring Crawley, just after 10 p.m. local time on Friday. The two individuals were arrested on “suspicion of disrupting services of civil aviation aerodrome to endanger or likely to endanger safety of operations or persons.”
“As part of our ongoing investigations into the criminal use of drones which has severely disrupted flights in and out of Gatwick Airport, Sussex Police made two arrests,” Superintendent James Collis of the Sussex Police said in a statement on Saturday. “Our investigations are still on-going, and our activities at the airport continue to build resilience to detect and mitigate further incursions from drones, by deploying a range of tactics.”
The drones appeared Wednesday evening and were spotted through Thursday, resulting in three shutdowns and service disruptions until Friday evening. According to Reuters at the time, the devices reappeared near the airport each time authorities attempted to reopen the runway for flights. According to the New York Times, more than 1,000 flights were affected by the incident.
Motivations behind the incident remain unclear as of Saturday. Prior to the arrests, police were looking into the possibility that the stunt was some kind of environmental protest, the Guardian reported Friday. Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry of the Sussex Police told the paper that authorities were considering a “whole spectrum of possibilities, from the really high-end criminal behaviour all the way down to just individuals trying to be malicious.”
Whatever the motivation, the punishment could be severe. Per the Times, a maximum sentence could be life imprisonment on conviction.
The incident, which the Guardian said was the “most disruptive incident ever caused by a drone at a major international airport,” carries serious implications for airport security on an international level. Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, called the incident an “unprecedented issue.”
“This isn’t a Gatwick Airport issue,” Woodroofe said. “It’s not even a UK issue. It’s an international issue.”