Drone Mystery Spreads: More Sightings, Close Calls, No Answers

January 10, 2020
United States Department of Agriculture engineering technician Kevin Yemoto guides a drone into the air at a research farm northeast of Greeley, Colo., July 11, 2019.United States Department of Agriculture engineering technician Kevin Yemoto guides a drone into the air at a research farm northeast of Greeley, Colo., July 11, 2019.David Zalubowski/AP
United States Department of Agriculture engineering technician Kevin Yemoto guides a drone into the air at a research farm northeast of Greeley, Colo., July 11, 2019.

Concerns about the mysterious drones reportedly flying over eastern Colorado are rising as reports of sightings become more widespread.

And a drone nearly hit a medical helicopter Tuesday.

Helicopter pilot Kirk Peebles said he saw a drone pass within 100 feet from his Flight for Life helicopter during a routine medical call near Fort Morgan.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires a special waiver in order to fly drones higher than 400 feet.

"This is no longer a novelty," said Gov. Jared Polis in an interview with 9News. "I think we need to figure out what's going on before any accident occurs."

Law enforcement officials have voiced concerns about the drones interfering with normal flight plans. As a response to the near-miss with the helicopter, Colorado Emergency Management is starting its own investigation into what they call, "reports of suspicious drones in northeastern Colorado."

Polis said he has asked the state Department of Public Safety to ramp up its monitoring.

"We used one of our state planes to do flyovers a couple days ago, looking for heat signatures, we didn't detect any," Polis told 9News. "We're going to be doing that again"

Law enforcement agencies on Colorado's Eastern Plains started a task force Monday with the FAA and the FBI to try to find the source of the drones.

The FAA is working to confirm the sightings really are drones, agency spokesperson Ian Gregor said. The FAA has checked with drone companies, unmanned aircraft systems test sites, companies with waivers to operate in the area and airports. None of them have been confirmed as the source of these reports, Gregor said.

Residents have also started reporting drones sighted farther south and west than in previous weeks. People have reported drone sightings in Castle Rock, Parker, Fort Collins, Boulder, and as far south as the Pueblo area.

"It was very unnerving and I live alone," said Amy Smith, who said she saw a drone out the window of her home in Olney Springs. "It's scary to see something like that and not know what it is."

Several online groups have grown out of curiosity, anxiety and suspicion of residents.

"[I am] not super concerned from a national security perspective, but low flying ones above roads are starting to distract drivers and could cause accidents," said Annamarie Calabrese, a member of the Facebook group DRONES over COLORADO and NEBRASKA.

The group has more than 3,000 members. Many members seem to agree with Smith's sentiment — their concern comes from the unknown.

Have a sighting to report? Tell us.