Sunday 15 September 2019

Couple quizzed over Gatwick drone attack

Window fitter and his wife arrested at detached house 8km from Gatwick following mayhem at airport, writes Robert Mendick

An aeroplane lands at Gatwick Airport, after the airport reopened to flights following its forced closure because of drone activity, in Gatwick, Britain, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
An aeroplane lands at Gatwick Airport, after the airport reopened to flights following its forced closure because of drone activity, in Gatwick, Britain, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk

Robert Mendick

The couple arrested on suspicion of the Gatwick drone attack are a husband and wife from Crawley, about 8km from Gatwick Airport.

Paul Gait (47) and his wife Elaine Kirk (54) were detained by police at their detached home in west Sussex at around 10pm last Friday. They were arrested on suspicion of disrupting civil aviation in a way likely to endanger people or operations.

Father-of-two Mr Gait, who works as a window fitter, is understood to be a drone enthusiast who also flies remote control helicopters.

But his boss insisted he had been working when the drone attacks were taking place and said he would be shocked if he had anything to do with the incident.

"Paul normally comes in around 7.45am and I remember on those days he then worked late on site on a fitting job. I don't think it can be him. He was busy on site working when it was happening," said John Allard, who runs a double glazing firm in nearby Crowborough.

Mr Allard, who has run the company for nearly 40 years, confirmed that Mr Gait had previously flown drones, but said he did not believe he had ever run into problems with the law over his hobby.

"He is a reliable family man who has been with me for 17 years and has never given me any problems at all," he said. "He may have picked up the interest in model flying from me because I've been doing it for 40 years.

"I also know Paul's wife Elaine and as far as I know she has no interest at all in drones or model flying."

Neighbours also described Mr Gait as a hard- working family man and expressed surprise that he could have been linked with the disruption at Gatwick.

"Paul is very hard- working. He works for a window fitting company and usually leaves home at around 7am every day and does not get back home until 6pm," said one neighbour, who asked not to be named .

"He used to race remote control cars up and down the road and then got into drones but I have not seen him flying one for more than a year. I noticed some activity outside his house on Friday night and saw him moving his car. I was surprised to see it was still there when I got up this morning because he usually works on Saturdays.

"I would be really surprised if he had anything to do with what has been going on because he seems like such a nice normal bloke."

Ms Kirk's sister Karen refused to comment on her arrest when contacted by reporters.

It has not been explained how domestic drone users could have had the capability to allegedly cause disruption on such a scale, and police inquiries will continue over the holiday period.

Gatwick Airport took strides toward running a full schedule yesterday after three days of mayhem for tens of thousands of holiday travellers.

The arrival and departure boards showed the busy airport inching toward normal but still featured an unusual number of delayed take-offs and landings.

Airport officials said the aim was to run a full complement of 757 flights yesterday with just under 125,000 passengers.

British police used "military-grade" equipment to defeat and find those responsible for the drone incursion.

Developed by the private sector but commercially available, one well-placed source suggested the systems would cost between €12m and €24m to buy along with large additional running costs to provide round-the-clock counter drone protection.

Police deployed three devices to find the drone. The drone detection device was the Metis Aerospace Skyperion counter-drone system. It detects drones and tracks their flight. The device can - in theory - also track the drone's operator, allowing authorities to trace the drone pilot.

Two Skyperion detectors were deployed at Gatwick, giving coverage across the entire airport. Detection equipment attempts to locate a controller by 'triangulating' the signals between the controller and the drone to pinpoint where they are geographically.

The second device used was a drone tracker - the 'military-grade' Falcon Shield counter-drone system developed by Leonardo, an aerospace, defence and security company.

According to its manufacturer, the Falcon Shield system can "reliably find, fix, track, identify and defeat the security threat posed by low, slow and small drones".

Falcon Shield claims to be able to take control of a rogue drone and land it safely if needs be.

The third part of the police hardware was a drone-jamming device - supplied by the British military. The source suggested the drone jammer was to be used as back-up and as a last resort.

Authorities had placed army and police snipers around the perimeter of the airport and had hoped to shoot the drone down or else trace it back to its operator - rather than jam the signal. "We want to capture the drone, not destroy it," said the source.

Jamming technology disrupts the radio frequencies being used by the controller to direct the drone.

Experts describe it as like using a huge blast of targeted noise to block the signals between the controller and the drone.


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