It's the first time an MQ-9 Reaper has been lost in Central New York. An investigation is underway to find out what caused the drone to crash into Lake Ontario during a routine training mission Tuesday. Sarah Blazonis has more.
CENTRAL NEW YORK -- Few details are available at this point. We should note that no injuries were reported as a result of the crash and no weapons were on board.
Officials say the drone took off from Wheeler Sack Army Airfield at Fort Drum. It was in the air for about three hours before something went wrong.
It started out like any of the MQ-9 student training missions held daily by the 174th Attack Wing.
"The mission was going as advertised, as briefed, up to the point when we did lose control of the airplane," said 174th Attack Wing Commander Greg Semmel.
The drone is believed to have gone down about 20 miles northeast of the Port of Oswego, within military special use airspace.
What exactly caused the $4 to $5 million aircraft to go down wasn't immediately clear.
Semmel said, "There's no indications and that's why the investigation has begun. Obviously, the goal of that investigating team will be to determine what the cause was."
MQ-9s have been used in intelligence and reconnaissance missions overseas. Military officials say it's a critical program to protecting troops on the ground.
But it also has vocal opponents, including the Syracuse Peace Council. One member says the crash highlights some of the group's objections to the program.
"It brings it home more, but it's happened before, it will happen again. But again, wanting to keep it in the bigger context, yes, this is a bad thing here, this is scary for us, personally, but there's another reason we should be scared is because the drones bring us into a war zone," said Carol Baum, Syracuse Peace Council Staff Organizer.
The FAA recently approved expanding the airspace the 174th can train in to include parts of Onondaga, Madison and Oswego counties. Officials say that space over land is also used daily.
Semmel said, "Safety is our number one priority at this point. So we're going to let that investigative team do their job and as we come up with the results of what happened with the airplane, we'll use that to make it even safer before we proceed."
The Coast Guard has sent a 47 foot vessel from Oswego and a helicopter from Buffalo to aid in the search for the drone.
The search was called off Tuesday because of bad weather, but it's expected to continue on Wednesday.
All of the 174th's flying operations have been temporarily suspended.
We don't know yet what this could mean for the drone program. Right now, the FAA is in the process of choosing six sites across the country to help test how these remotely piloted vehicles could be incorporated into U.S. airspace. Hancock Air Field, which is the home of the 174th, is one of the sites they're looking at.
When asked how this crash could affect those prospects, the 174th's commander said that he has confidence in the safety record of this kind of airplane.
The FAA is expected to announce those sites at the end of this year, so we may still have a few weeks to go before we know what, if any, effect this incident will have.
CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Reaper drone crashes into Lake Ontario
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