Gatwick Airport is closed today after drones were deliberately flown above the runway over a 12 hour period causing complete chaos for tens of thousands of people trying to get away for Christmas.
Police have also sent up a helicopter, put dozens of officers on the ground and have snipers ready to shoot any drones down as they try to end the most disruptive airport drone trespass in UK history.
Detectives are investigating if the incursion is a stunt by a lone pilot or part of a wider plot by activists who want to disrupt flights for environmental or political reasons – but have initially ruled out a terror attack.
Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw, the airport’s policing commander, said: ‘Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears. I’m absolutely convinced it’s a deliberate act to disrupt Gatwick Airport’.
A million people will fly from Gatwick over the Christmas period with 110,000 people alone facing disruption today as more than 200 flights were cancelled including children who were meant to fly to meet Santa in Lapland.
One passenger flying from Cape Verde to Gatwick became so irate about being diverted to Stansted last night he allegedly opened the door while a fellow traveller then claimed he was a terrorist so he could get off, leading to police being sent on board.
Ed Wilde claims to have filmed it flying over his plane last night as commercial drone pilots said only an expert using specialist and hugely expensive equipment could be behind the chaos.
Gatwick’s CEO Chris Woodroofe has revealed the drone incursions are ongoing with the airport closed until at least midday, adding: ‘I’m absolutely certain this is a deliberate act. There is a drone on my airfield as we speak.’
Passengers have been warned to expect disruption running into tomorrow – expected to be the busiest day of the Christmas getaway – with planes grounded at Gatwick or scattered across Britain and Europe after being diverted overnight.
Police marksmen armed with Heckler & Koch HK417 sniper rifles have been stationed on the perimeter of Gatwick Airport as they prepare to shoot down any drones that buzz the runway
This is the scene at Gatwick today where tens of thousands face disruption and doubts they will get away for Christmas as a result of the drone chaos
Gatwick is ‘full to capacity’ with no flights coming in or out on one of the busiest days of the year at UK airports
A young woman has her head in her hands as she and 100,000 others face disruption because of the drone chaos
One woman gets some sleep on the Gatwick floor using her suitcase a makeshift pillow today after the suspension of all flights in and out
Parent Ani Kochiashvili photographs her baby and a toddler as they get some sleep on the chairs in Gatwick while passengers on a Norwegian Air flight diverted to Paris Orly get from fresh air as they are stranded on the Tarmac
This is the moment police boarded a flight at Stansted Airport after irate passengers flying home from Cape Verde were diverted away from Gatwick
These poor passengers were diverted to Birmingham after struggling to land at Gatwick and were forced to sleep on board
The runway at Gatwick today as dozens of police including some in a force helicopter (pictured) hunt for the expert drone pilot behind the incursions
One passenger stranded on the Tarmac at Gatwick filmed what he claimed was the drone flying overhead, although others have suggested it could be too large
Last night people, including children as young as three, were forced to sleep on Gatwick’s terminal floors, seats or on grounded jets because of a lack of hotels.
Eddie Boyes, who was caught in the chaos, said today: ‘We were offered a hotel only for that to be rescinded shortly afterwards. People sleeping on floor in south terminal, utter shambles’.
Others due to fly into Gatwick were diverted to Amsterdam, Paris, Bordeaux, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester, Stansted, Luton and Birmingham.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government was in ‘close contact’ with the authorities at Gatwick.
The spokesman said: ‘This behaviour is irresponsible and completely unacceptable. We feel for all passengers facing so much disruption.
‘The drones are being flown illegally and the law could not be clearer that those endangering aircraft could face up to five years in jail.’
In the worst drone incursion at a UK airport in history, it emerged:
- Police and Gatwick say the drone incursions are certainly deliberate as hundred of planes are grounded for safety reasons;
- More than 200 flights have been cancelled or delayed so far today as more than 100,000 people are due to come through Gatwick today;
- Last night 10,000 people were stranded with 6,000 diverted elsewhere and 4,000 on planes that never took off;
- Drone is being flown by an expert pilot using a commercial drone who has flown it over Gatwick at least once an hour since 9pm;
- Airport bosses say they will not open until they are sure the threat is gone;
- Calls for police or RAF to shoot it down – but there are concerns about stray bullets causing more carnage;
Drone users who fly above 400ft and within 1km of airport boundaries could be jailed for five years because the small unmanned aircraft could catastrophically damage a plane if it was sucked into an engine or shattered its windscreen.
Officers from Sussex and Surrey, and a police helicopter, are patrolling the airfield and a five mile zone around it to try to find the drones and the operators.
Timeline: How dangerous drone pilot managed to shut down Gatwick
Police are hunting for the expert drone pilot who has grounded hundreds of planes coming in and out of Gatwick.
Here is how the chaos has unfolded
9pm, December 19: Drone is first spotted by airport staff hovering near the runway causing flights to be grounded or diverted.
9.15pm: It appears again leading Gatwick bosses to believe it is a deliberate act.
9.30pm – midnight: The drone is seen at least five more times in that period
3.01am, December 20: Airport re-opens its runway after the all clear is given
3.45AM: Drone is seen again and flights are again grounded
7AM: Small unmanned aircraft appears again
9AM: Last sighting of the drone as police start hunting perimeter of the airport
Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw Gatwick Airport policing commander said: ‘We believe this to be a deliberate act to disrupt the airport. However, there are absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror related.
‘I’ve got over 20 units from Surrey and Sussex, and from the airport, searching for the drone operator to try to locate him, and we’re exploring other options at the moment to try to bring this situation to a close.
He added there had been no intelligence this was going to happen, saying it was ‘a random act that’s happened overnight’.
Asked if he thought the operator would be caught, he said: ‘I’m convinced we will. It’s a painstaking thing with the new drones – the bigger the drone, the bigger the reach of the operator, so it’s a difficult and challenging thing to locate them, but I’ve got teams now and I’ve got investigators looking at how we do that, and I’m confident we will.’
Gatwick CEOs Chris Woodroofe revealed a drone was still buzzing around the airport this morning and said: ‘There is a drone on my airfield as we speak.’
He told Sky News: ‘Last night there were 10,000 people disrupted. There were 6,000 people flying in from around the world to Gatwick who were diverted to alternative airports as we closed, there were 2,000 people who didn’t take off from their origin airport and there are a further 2,000 people here who couldn’t fly to their destination because the airport closed’.
He added that 20 police units from two forces were hunting for the pilot, saying: ‘The police are looking for the operator and that is the way to disable to drone.
‘We also have the helicopter up in the air but the police advice us that it would be dangerous to seek to shoot the drone down because of what may happen to the stray bullets.’
He added: ‘Last night at 9’o’clock in the evening, a drone was spotted by two different members of my staff… since then the drone has appeared and disappeared and appeared and disappeared through until 2’o’clock in the morning.
‘At 3’o’clock we thought it had gone and then it came back again and so we closed the runway again. As I stand here now, there is a drone on my airfield, as we speak.’
He branded the drone pilot’s actions as ‘completely irresponsible’.
Planes have been diverted to as far away as Bordeaux, Paris, Amsterdam and Shannon as well as the majority of airports in the UK
Gatwick Airport confirmed they suspended flight operations after two drones were seen in the area surrounding the aerodrome. They said it was necessary to take this action for safety reasons
Eddie Boyes says an offer of a hotel was later rescinded as chaos at Gatwick took over overnight because of cancellations
One pilot expressed his frustration on Instagram posting a picture from the flight deck as planes were stuck on the tarmac at Gatwick Airport while in the terminal a stranded passenger gets some rest while sat in a trolley
Queues for check in are snaking through the terminal into the arrivals area, which has had no flights landing since 9pm yesterday
People are sleeping wherever they can find space with many explaining there are no hotel rooms available in the area around Britain’s second busiest airport
Planes have been cancelled, diverted and delayed as Gatwick remained on complete lockdown today
A three-year-old little boy catches up on some sleep on the seats in Gatwick as tens of thousands were stranded there, across the UK and abroad
On one of the busiest travelling days of the year queues snaked through Gatwick South as people tried to check in for flights that were going nowhere
The deserted runway at Gatwick where hundreds of planes were unable to take off or land since 9pm last night
Were drones built by someone who planned to disrupt? Top expert says specialist equipment would have been needed
The drones used over London Gatwick Airport were potentially built by someone who planned to cause disruption, a top expert said today.
Samuel Luff, who has been flying drones for five years, said he believes the operator could have been manning the drone from up to five miles away.
Mr Luff, who runs Apollo Drone Services in Redhill, Surrey, also pointed out that it was raining at the time the drone was first sighted – giving further evidence that the device is specialised enough to work in wet conditions.
By SAMUEL LUFF, Apollo Drone Services
As a licensed and insured drone operator and a drone pilot for close to five years, I am actually amazed that it is only now in 2018 that we are seeing a serious threat at Gatwick Airport.
I have had many conversations with my clients over the years about just how destructive the technology could be in the wrong hands, and in my opinion this is what we are seeing this morning.
From the video that I have watched it is clear to me that the drones we are seeing are not of standard specification and have potentially been built for the purpose to disrupt.
Here’s the thing – the largest seller of drones, DJI, all have built in systems that prevent the operator from flying close to airports, to stop things like this happening.
Someone here has not only got close to the airport but has been seen over the runway itself.
This is not someone making a foolish mistake, this is someone who has planned this and built or modified a drone that can get this close to a runway.
It is also worth pointing out that at 9pm (the approximate time they were seen) it was raining.
Again, this points to something that is much more specialist, and Gatwick Airport has stated that ‘one of the drones is a heavy, industrial type’.
It is entirely possible these people were operating the drone from up to five miles away which will make it very hard to track them down. Drones are too small to be picked up by a radar as well so they can go relatively unnoticed.
What I would like to see here is the Civil Aviation Authority and the police make it very clear to people that breaking drone rules will have serious consequences.
There are thousands of videos online of people flying drones over crowds of people and through city centres. Very rarely do these people get prosecuted and it leads to things like this which damages our industry.
I have seen instances where unlicensed pilots know full well they are breaking the rules but do so anyway because they know that the police simply do not have the time to deal with them.
Drones are used for good all across the UK by sensible, qualified operators and it’s moments like this that further add to the public’s perception that all drones are bad.
Until someone is made an example of then I fully understand their concerns.
A mother said she has suffered an ’emotional disaster’ after spending the night on a cold floor with her eight-year-old-daughter and three-year-old son.
Yulia Hristova, who was meant to fly to Istanbul via Kiev at 3am and has been at the airport since midnight, said: ‘With two kids I’m in a difficult position, I’m so tired, I’m so upset, we’ve had no information.
‘We were standing for hours, nobody’s been on the desk. It was so cold. We were sleeping on the floor, me and my children. I lost my son during the night, and a policeman brought him back.
‘I was meant to be reunited with my family, my kids were so excited they didn’t sleep until 6am, they were waiting to get on the plane.
‘It’s been an emotional disaster.
‘I’m so exhausted, I don’t want to stress out but it’s very worrying. What’s going to happen to us in Ukraine? What if we run out of money? Are the airline going to put us in a hotel?
‘I want to give up right now, it’s making me so anxious.’
Mamosta Abdulla said he was on an Iraq-bound flight on Wednesday evening before getting stuck on the tarmac for four hours and will now miss his father’s memorial service.
He said: ‘We got here at 6pm and should have flown at 9.10pm, but we were stuck four hours on the plane with a crying baby, the child was disabled and everyone was sweating because it was so hot in there.
‘They gave us hope by showing us the safety procedure and then five minutes later they say nobody is flying.
‘We got given a £12 refreshment voucher each after a couple hours of waiting and that’s it.
‘We’ve had to sleep in a freezing place, on uncomfortable chairs. We are in Iraq with bombs going off nearby and the plane still lands! But here some drones have shut down the airport.’
A Gatwick spokesman said 110,000 passengers were due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights on Thursday.
He was unable to state how many of these passengers had already been affected but the first wave of flights is normally the busiest time of the day.
Around 10,000 passengers were affected on Wednesday night after the runway was closed at 9.03pm.
Passengers are advised not to travel to the airport if their flight is cancelled.
Dozens of people were perched on seats with jackets and coats used as makeshift blankets after being stranded in the airport overnight.
Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg said the Government was considering extending police powers to prevent drones causing airport disruption in the future.
She told BBC News: ‘I think it’s important to be clear this is a crime, this drone is being flown illegally.
‘Earlier this year we changed the law to make it illegal to fly within a kilometre of an airport and I know that police are out and trying to bring the drone down as quickly as possible.
‘This is an illegal act. We are also looking to extend police powers and early in the new year we’ll be looking at our next steps on that.
‘The other thing we’re looking at is counter-drone technology. Technology in this area is obviously moving incredibly quickly, but we need to make sure we’re able to stop such activity in future.’
Baroness Sugg said authorities were hoping to get Gatwick open as quickly as possible as people travel for the Christmas break.
She added: ‘Our priority is to get that airport open as safely as possible so that people can fly off on their Christmas breaks, or people who are coming in to visit friends and family.
‘The police are working to bring the drone down, and I am confident that they will do so. ‘
Statement: Gatwick posted a message on Twitter urging passengers to check with their airline before travelling to the airport on Thursday amid fears the knock-on effects of the drone chaos would last well into the day
Is it time for Britain to get anti-drone technology? Gatwick mayhem will renew calls for UK airports to have US defence system that downs unmanned aircraft with menacing radio waves
Calls for tougher anti-drone detection systems at UK airports that can spot devices up to five miles away within three seconds will be renewed today, following the suspension of flights at Gatwick Airport.
Strong sales of small consumer drones – especially in the run up to Christmas each year – have led to repeated warnings about a possible threat to scheduled flights, which have become a reality just five days before December 25.
A drone flies in the air, with a British Airways aircraft pictured to the rear in February 2017
Earlier this year, new laws came into force which ban all drones from flying above 400ft and within 1km (0.6 miles) of airport boundaries. Drone users who flout the restrictions could face an unlimited fine, up to five years in prison, or both.
Aviation experts will today be looking into how UK airports can be better protected. In May, London Southend Airport tested an anti-drone system which uses a combination of radio frequency and optical sensors to detect nearby drones.
The week-long trial using Metis Aerospace’s Skyperion product saw test drones flown within a 2.5-mile (4km) radius of the airport in Essex – 40 miles away from London – for the two sensors to pick up, and it was said to have been a success.
Meanwhile a system developed by three British companies which is capable of jamming signals on unmanned aerial vehicle was trialled in its first public test by the US Federal Aviation Authority in June 2016.
The Anti-UAV Defense System (Auds) system – built by Enterprise, Chess Systems and Blighter – uses high powered radio waves to disable drones, effectively blocking their communication and switching them off in mid-air.
More recently in November 2017, a ‘detective early warning system’ and ‘drone interference system’ against unmanned aerial vehicles was trialled at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport in China, which has also faced issues with drones near airports.
The Cangqin system – which can work in all weather conditions – can monitor a low-altitude airspace five miles (8km) in diameter, and locate a drone three seconds after it becomes operative within the supervised range.
Back in Britain, research funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) found that a drone weighing 400g could smash a helicopter windscreen, and one weighing 2kg (4lbs) could critically damage an airliner’s windscreen.
Laws introduced to the Commons in May mean people flying drones which weigh 250g (9oz) or more will have to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Drone pilots will be required to take an online safety test under the new legislation.
Social media has been flooded with hundreds of complaints as airlines struggle to deal with the backlog. As well as dealing with flights delayed going in and out of Gatwick, airlines will have to get diverted planes back to the airport, meaning more knock-on delays today.
Flights in and out of the airport were suspended at about 9pm on Wednesday after two drones were sighted near the airfield but the runway reopened at about 3am
But just 45 minutes later it was shut again after a drone was spotted again.
In a statement, the airport said: ‘Following reports of two drones flying over the Gatwick Airport airfield at around 9pm, the airfield was closed from 21.03 on Wednesday 19th December to 03.01 on Thursday 20th December.
‘Unfortunately a further sighting of drones in the vicinity of the airport has forced the runway to be closed again from 03.45 as we investigate the sighting alongside Sussex Police.
‘We will update when we have suitable reassurance that it is appropriate to reopen the runway.’
Passengers faced delays to their travels on Wednesday night as some 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.
Gatwick advised anyone flying from the airport, or collecting someone, to check the status of their flight.
A spokeswoman added that airlines were working to provide affected passengers with hotel accommodation or transport for those whose flights were diverted.
Lyndsey Clarke, from Southend on Sea, said she was stuck on a plane for more than four hours after it was re-routed to Stansted.
The 27-year-old said passengers were then having to get taxis back to Gatwick after they were finally allowed off the aircraft.
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 onboard.
The 20-year-old from Aldershot said: ‘We got told there would be some arrangements with coaches for us when we get out the terminal… it was just chaos and they had only two coaches and taxis charging people £600 to get to Gatwick.’
Joe Bond’s flight from Belfast was diverted to Birmingham, and he joked on Twitter: ‘From the sound of the stewards we might be staying here forever.’
He added: ‘Update. Got a free can of Coke and Pringles. Which has made the delay better.’
Flight tracking site Plane Finder said some flights had been put on a holding pattern over France.
It is understood two British Airways flights were diverted to Heathrow Airport.
Oana Damian tweeted that her flight had been diverted to London Heathrow but no-one could disembark as there were no customs and ground handling operations in place to deal with the plane.
Honor Ireland wrote: ‘Landed at Stansted when we should be at @Gatwick-Airport due to a supposed drone sighting – car is at Gatwick, fantastic! £gatwickairport’
John Belo said: ‘Plane should have departed an hour ago from @Gatwick-Airport – captain confirmed there are reports of a drone in the area … still waiting.’
Many passengers faced hours-long coach journeys to reach their final destination after the flight ban was reimposed by airport officials at 3.45am today.
Aviation chiefs warned every UK airport in the south-east of England was full to capacity as a result of the shutdown with knock-on effects expected throughout the region.
One easyJet passenger on a flight from from Rome required medical attention after his flight was diverted to Stansted.
And some unlucky flyers were stuck circling over Bristol on a Norwegian Air plane before the flight from JFK was diverted to Liverpool.
Those hoping to make a Christmas getaway elsewhere in the UK or abroad could have their plans thrown into chaos with further delays expected into Thursday and dozens of jets still at the wrong airport.
After more than four-and-a-half hours on the tarmac at Gatwick, passengers on an China Airways flight received an in-flight meal at 2am today as they awaited permission to taxi to the runway and take off
Planes were stranded side-by-side on runways across Europe. These aircraft are pictured at Birmingham after the flight from Belfast was diverted in the chaos
Flights were grounded as drones were spotted flying at Gatwick (pictured), shutting down the runway from 9pm last night until 3am this morning. It was only open for 45 minutes before airport officials reinstated the departure ban again at 3.45am
Coaches arrive at Gatwick airport in the early hours of Thursday to take stranded passengers to nearby hotels after at least two drones were spotted near the runway between 9pm yesterday and 3.45am this morning
Several flights were forced to hold after two drones were reported near Gatwick Airport and more sightings were reported on social media throughout the night
People were trapped on planes for hours and others faced lengthy coach journeys as people claimed that they continued to spot drones throughout the evening
The chaos is set to spill over this morning as airport security were deployed at the scene last night as flights were downed at Gatwick
Police are pictured at the scene in Gatwick were two drones were spotted flying near aircraft, causing chaos across the continent
Passengers vented their fury as they remained stuck on the tarmac after flights were diverted across the continent due to drones being seen at London’s Gatwick Airport
Social media users continued to report sightings of more drones throughout the night after the first two sightings were confirmed by airport bosses. One report said up to seven had been seen, but other witnesses claimed they were helicopters hunting the original drones.
At least one pilot diverted from Gatwick declared a ‘pan pan’ emergency – one level down from a mayday – in a sign his aircraft needed to land urgently.
One man, Philip Dodson, was waiting for his wife on an easyJet flight from Porto. He slammed the airline for the lack of information.
He wrote on twitter: ‘Your customer service and lack info is a disgrace just been waiting for my wife to arrive from Porto.
‘Your website says it landed on time yet my wife is on the plane which was diverted to Southend, where she still is with no info.’
One passenger, Harriet MacEacharn said she and her boyfriend were waiting to take off on a China Airlines flight to Taipei when they were delayed.
‘At about 9.40 they told us they were investigating a foreign object on the runway. Now its 11.30 and we’ve heard not one thing more from the airline.’ She said it was likely they would miss their connecting flight.
Social media users continued to report sighting throughout the night following the initial two drones that were spotted near Gatwick Airport
Frustrated customers are stuck at a crowded Gatwick airport as drone sightings brought flights to a standstill and closed down the runway
British Airways confirmed flight operations at Gatwick had been suspended due to a drone
Relatives of those waiting for loved ones complained about the lack of staff providing information for those at Gatwick Airport
Other passengers reported they were held on the tarmac of Heathrow Airport because there were not enough security staff and customs officials to screen the unexpected arrivals.
More than two-dozen flights have been forced to divert while air traffic control waits to give the all clear.
British Airways apologised to its customers claiming flight operations had to be suspended because of the drone.
Some flights were forced to divert to Birmingham, leaving passengers more than 100 miles from their intended destination.
While other aircraft were forced into holding patterns over France before receiving permission to approach Gatwick. It is understood one Ryanair aircraft requested a diversion to Stansted.
People meeting passengers due to arrive at Gatwick complained their friends and families have been diverted to airports across the country
One passenger complained easyJet failed to provide adequate information
Gatwick Airport said: ‘ ‘Following reports of two drones flying over the Gatwick Airfield, we have had to suspend flights while this is investigated.
‘We apologise to any affected passengers for this inconvenience but the safety is our foremost priority.’
Family members expressed anger over social media after their loved ones were diverted to different airports.
One easyJet flight landed at Stansted instead of Gatwick because of the continued chaos.
Other flights are believed to have landed in Manchester, Cardiff, Luton and Paris.
One passenger said they were forced to land in Liverpool rather than Gatwick
One Norwegian Air flight from JFK diverted to Liverpool having circled Bristol while awaiting an update.
Several passengers reported long waits for take off or diversions.
Twitter user Seun Olayanju posted: ‘@AerLingus currently stuck at Gatwick waiting for the heavily delayed E10249 to Dublin. Please can you confirm if the flight will run tonight?’
Honor Ireland wrote: ‘Landed at Stanstead when we should be at @Gatwick-Airport due to a supposed drone sighting – car is at Gatwick, fatastic! £gatwickairport’
Kirsty Lingston said: ‘Thanks to the d*cks flying drones around my flight to Gatwick has now landed in Southend.’
A passenger revealed he departed the Isle of Man more than 90 minutes late only to land at Manchester where he has to face a four-and-a-half hour coach journey.
In Britain, the number of near misses between private drones and aircraft more than tripled between 2015 and 2017, with 92 incidents recorded last year, according to the UK Airprox Board.
One passenger asked how a drone could force the closure of an entire airport
Flight tracking services showed a police helicopter searching the area around the airport
HOW CLOSE IS A NEAR MISS BETWEEN AIRCRAFT AND DRONES?
Near miss is a common term used to describe encounters between different airborne vehicles.
Governed by Airprox, there is no specific distance stated, instead it is gauged by the opinions of the pilot, air traffic controller and the drone operator.
Earlier this year a ‘near-miss’ report was filed between a police drone and two fighter jets travelling at 520 mph.
Governed by Airprox, there is no specific distance stated, instead it is gauged by the opinions of the pilot, air traffic controller and the drone operator
The Devon and Cornwall officer was convinced there would be a collision as the military jet came into view.
The Airprox board reported the 13lbs device was flying at an altitude of around 300ft when the pilot heard a fast jet approaching.
The F-15 pilot, who was flying at an altitude of 500ft, could not see the drone but the drone pilot said the risk of a collision was ‘high’.
‘Our Christmas plans have been ruined by a rogue drone’: Furious passengers blast Gatwick chaos after diversions and cancellations leave thousands stranded across UK and Europe
Passengers stranded by the chaos at Gatwick Airport today told of families running out of food and trying to sleep in ‘freezing’ terminals and crowded planes.
Pregnant women and young children were resting on the floor, disabled people were on chairs and people were trying to calm small babies amid the travel carnage.
Some became so irate at being stuck on the ground for four hours at Stansted that one allegedly opened the plane door before another claimed he was a terrorist.
At Gatwick, Hollie Smith was supposed to be flying to Lapland with her five-year-old twin nieces Gracie and Sofia from Chelmsford to meet Father Christmas.
At London Gatwick today, Hollie Smith was supposed to be flying to Lapland with her five-year-old twin nieces Gracie and Sofia (pictured) from Chelmsford to meet Father Christmas
But she said: ‘Who will be the one to break the news to them? Sat in departures with no information. Twelve-plus hours to take down a drone is laughable… don’t they have police drones to send up?’
MailOnline travel editor Ted Thornhill was among those caught up in the trouble, as his Christmas plans to visit relatives in France were ‘ruined’ by the drone.
The father-of-one said: ‘We were supposed to be flying to Marseille to visit French relatives but our 8.40am easyJet flight was cancelled.
‘The only options open to us were to transfer to a late flight tomorrow to Nice – which would have been very disruptive for the baby’s sleep pattern – or book a new flight, which would have been very expensive.
‘So we’ve cancelled the entire trip. Luckily we heard about the disruption before we got to the airport so returned home. Very frustrating.’
Dozens of police officers are now hunting for the drone pilot as flights remain delayed today
A six-and-a-half hour TUI Airways flight from Cape Verde to London Gatwick was diverted to Stansted due to disruption caused by drones over the Sussex airport.
But passengers claimed it was ‘pure hell’ on the Tarmac at Stansted overnight on flight TOM687, with some shouting at other travellers and being abusive to staff.
Having been stuck on the plane – which landed at about 10.15pm last night – for four hours, a man then allegedly opened the door and put everyone on board at risk.
Another then said he was a terrorist – and video footage showed two Essex Police officers coming on board to defuse the situation. No arrests were made.
One passenger, Lyndsey Clarke, from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, tweeted: ‘So Gatwick is shut due to drones so our flight TOM687 has been diverted to Stansted.
Passengers stand by a plane door in Paris today after being diverted there on a Norweigan flight that had been headed to Gatwick. They said staff had started handing out water bottles
‘So far we’ve been stuck on our plane for four hours… a man has opened the plane door and put everyone at risk and then another guy says he’s a terrorist.
‘Living pure hell right now. The staff on flight TOM687 have been amazing but unfortunately they have been subject to so much abuse.
‘We all just want to get home. Several passengers on flight TOM687 just making this ordeal so awful, abusive to staff, shouting at other passengers. Police here now.’
Later, she added that she finally off ‘the plane of living hell’, adding: ‘Now to find a taxi back to Gatwick with a big bill – passengers trying to go together.’
And at 5.30am, Ms Clarke tweeted a picture of her car, saying: ‘Never been so happy to see our car. Back at Gatwick finally… eight hours later than our scheduled flight was due to arrive home at 9.30pm… just over an hour’s drive home now.’
Passenger chaos at Gatwick Airport this morning, amid chaos for tens of thousands of people
After arriving home she tweeted: ‘As for the terrorist… I have no words that someone thought it was OK to terrify an aircraft by saying he was a terrorist when in fact he was using it as an ‘idea’ to get them to let us off the plane, causing many of us to have panic attacks as we didn’t know if he was real.’
Another passenger, Ashley Pollitt, tweeted TUI to praise staff on the flight for being ‘nothing but helpful and informing us regularly’ about what was happening.
She added: ‘I’m sensing you will get a lot of complaints off idiotic customers that put both passengers/staff in danger along with other throwing stupid statements around.
‘I just wanted to say your staff from the captain to the cabin crew were nothing but professional and informative.’
TUI replied, saying: ‘Sorry to hear that your flight has had to be diverted Ashley, I can imagine this has been an inconvenience. It’s great to read however that our staff have been helpful in keeping you informed during this time.’
It then added: ‘Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us Ashley. We’ll be sure to pass on your kind words to the crew of TOM687.’
An Essex Police spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We were called shortly after 1.35am on Thursday, December 20 to reports a passenger was being disruptive.
‘We attended and spoke to the parties involved. No offences were identified and words of advice were given to the male passenger.’
A TUI spokesman said: ‘We would like to apologise to customers travelling on TOM687 which was diverted to London Stansted due to the London Gatwick drone disruption.
‘While the aircraft was held on stand, our captain made the decision to call police to the aircraft due to a customer’s disruptive behaviour. We operate a zero tolerance policy on aggressive and abusive behaviour on board our flights.
‘The safety and security of all our customers and crew remains our number one priority and we are doing everything possible to minimise the disruption for our customers during this time.’
Stansted Airport declined to comment.
Andri Kyprianou, from Cyprus, said she saw a pregnant woman sleeping on the floor and passengers with infants spending the night in the ‘freezing’ South Terminal.
She said she got to the airport at 12.30am for a 3am flight to Cyprus via Kiev, only to find it had been cancelled and the next connection in Kiev is on Sunday.
She said: ‘I haven’t slept since yesterday morning, we are very tired. It’s freezing, we are cold, having to wear all of these coats for extra blankets.
Video footage showed two police officers coming on board to defuse the situation last night
‘There were pregnant women, one of them was sleeping on the floor. There were people with small babies in here overnight, we saw disabled people on chairs.
‘There were young children sleeping on the floor.’
She said she will have to spend a night in Kiev, but she had been told by Ukraine International Airlines that there may be a chance of an alternative connection through Tel Aviv.
‘Hopefully they will arrange a hotel for us so we don’t have another night in an airport,’ she added.
Chris Lister, from Somerset, who owns an online business, was travelling back from Kiev with his wife Freya.
He was due to land at Gatwick at 9.45pm yesterday but ended up trapped on the plane on the Tarmac at Birmingham Airport until 6am.
‘There were quite a few babies and kids on board, I think they were struggling more than we were and one woman had run out milk,’ he said.
After starting his journey in Bangkok on Tuesday he was finally let off the plane at 6am, he said.
A Gatwick spokesman said 110,000 passengers were due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights today.
Queues of passengers in the check in area at Gatwick Airport today as they wait for updates
He was unable to say how many had already been affected but the first wave of flights is normally the busiest time of the day.
Around 10,000 passengers were affected last night after the runway was closed at 9.03pm.
Passengers are advised not to travel to the airport if their flight is cancelled.
Joseph Ouechen, a photographer from Morocco, was due to fly into Gatwick on Wednesday night but had his flight diverted to Paris.
After arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport at midnight, passengers with visas for the Schengen area were taken to a hotel but those without – ‘about 20 per cent’ – were left in the airport to fend for themselves, he said.
The scene inside an easyJet plane today, three hours after it landed at Manchester having been diverted from Gatwick Airport which was closed because of the sighting of drones
‘There were families with babies who couldn’t get to their suitcases for their milk and stuff,’ he said.
‘We were asking just for a favour if (airport staff) could help but they said they couldn’t do anything.’
Firefighters eventually crossed the border through passport control with blankets and water at 3.30am, he said.
‘To be honest, I’m so tired and when the guys from the fire (service) came with the bottles and blankets I was feeling like a war, like (I was) a refugee, but I’m just flying to the UK.
‘It’s surreal. I was flying to the UK and now there are firemen bringing me water and blankets.’
A helicopter flies over the runway at Gatwick Airport this morning after it was closed
Mamosta Abdulla said he was on an Iraq-bound flight yesterday evening before getting stuck on the Tarmac for four hours.
He will miss his father’s memorial service, he said.
‘We got here at 6pm and should have flown at 9.10pm, but we were stuck four hours on the plane with a crying baby, the child was disabled and everyone was sweating because it was so hot in there,’ he said.
Passengers were given a £12 voucher for food, he added, but were left to sleep ‘in a freezing place on uncomfortable chairs’.
‘We are in Iraq with bombs going off nearby and the plane still lands. But here some drones have shut down the airport.’