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‘Damaged’ drone found near Gatwick Airport; arrested couple are freed without charge

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A couple in Britain who were detained in connection with the illegal use of drones that sowed three days of chaos at Gatwick Airport were released Sunday without charge, and police said they had recovered a "damaged" drone near the airport that was being forensically examined.

[LONDON] A couple in Britain who were detained in connection with the illegal use of drones that sowed three days of chaos at Gatwick Airport were released Sunday without charge, and police said they had recovered a "damaged" drone near the airport that was being forensically examined.

Gatwick Airport also announced it was offering a £50,000 (S$86,900) reward for information leading to "the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the criminal act that disrupted flights".

The couple had been arrested on suspicion of disrupting civil aviation services and endangering people or operations, police said in a statement. They are both from Crawley, a town just south of the airport, and the husband's Facebook page suggested that he was a drone hobbyist.

But on Sunday, Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley of the Sussex police said in a statement, "Both people have fully cooperated with our enquiries and I am satisfied that they are no longer suspects in the drone incidents at Gatwick."

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The first drone sighting was reported around 9pm on Wednesday, forcing officials to shut down the airport's one runway in West Sussex, south of London, and ground or divert more than 1,000 flights over three days; the runway was buzzed more than 40 times within 48 hours.

The chaos affected more than 140,000 passengers in Britain and reverberated around the world.

The couple was arrested on Friday night. In a phone interview Sunday night, Chief Superintendent Tingley said that they had been held for "approximately 35 hours" for questioning because police "needed to be really sure what we were dealing with."

Sussex police have declined to officially name the couple, and the chief said police had offered them "full support" after they were released.

Chief Superintendent Tingley said the damaged drone was found Saturday morning near the perimeter fencing of Gatwick, in the small town of Horley, by a member of the public who alerted police. He said an examination by a forensic science team in Britain was being "prioritised and fast-tracked".

Investigators are looking for two things, he said: digital data on the drone and human DNA.

NYTIMES