AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
A nearly 400-pound unmanned aerial vehicle crash-landed near an elementary school in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania on Thursday afternoon, irritating members of the community and alarming civil liberties advocates nervous about drones flying over the US.
The drone, an RQ-7 Shadow, is 11 feet long with a 14 foot wingspan. Why it was flying in the air above Lickdale Elemantary School is unknown, but Major Ed Shank, a public affairs officer for the Pennsylvania National Guard, told Les Stewart of the Lebanon Daily News that drones operate out of Fort Indiantown Gap, an Army post in Lebanon County.
The 375-pound craft endured what officials called a “hard landing” before being run over by a civilian vehicle. No one was hurt in the incident, but the drone – reportedly worth $150,000 – was a “total loss” and rendered useless after slamming into the ground.
“Here at Fort Indiantown Gap, that's the first time something like this has happened,” Maj. Shank told WHTM News in Lebanon. “When it does happen we investigate it very thoroughly to figure out what happened and then let the public know and let our own aviators know so that it doesn't happen again.”
Local affiliates reported that the US Army and Marine Corps are known to use such aircraft for reconnaissance and surveillance overseas. Without elaborating, spokesman Shank maintained that the drone that went down was engaged in “training exercises.”
Lisa Cooper, who lives right down the street from where the crash occurred, said residents in the area have grown used to hearing aircraft buzzing overhead.
“I have listened to it for the past couple of years and I was a little unsteady with it going over my house because look what happens,” she said. “You just don't know what it could have been.”
Earlier this year, a US Border Patrol drone went down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California, costing the federal agency $12 million. The crash suffered a mechanical failure and was deliberately flown into the sea, whereupon it broke apart on impact.
That incident came after a more serious one, when a drone undergoing military exercises slammed into a US Navy battleship and injured two sailors last November. The Navy Times reported at the time that the ship “was heavily damaged by the impact of a test target,” while the 13-foot UAV “crippled a key computer center integral to the ship's cutting edge combat systems.”