By Cailey Rizzo
December 20, 2018
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Thousands of travelers were stranded Wednesday and Thursday when London’s Gatwick Airport shut down after a drone flew illegally near the airport.

Departing flights from Gatwick were grounded from 9 p.m. Wednesday until about 3 a.m. Thursday after an industrial drone flew over the airspace, according to the New York Times. The airport shut down again around 3:45 a.m. after another drone sighting.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

“This is a highly targeted activity which has been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run up to Christmas,” Stewart Wingate, the CEO of Gatwick Airport, said in a statement. “We are working very closely with the police and the security services to try to resolve this for passengers.”

Local police believe that the drone attacks were a "deliberate act" of disruption, however they are not considering the act terrorism, according to the BBC. At about 9 p.m. Wednesday, drones were spotted flying “over the perimeter fence and into where the runway operates from."

Police are looking for the operator of the drones and will then attempt to disable them. Police are not shooting the unmanned aircraft because of the dangers from stray bullets. The search to bring down the drones has proven difficult. “Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears,” Justin Burtenshaw, head of armed policing for the area told the Associated Press, “when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears.”

Gatwick is the second-busiest airport in Britain, according to the New York Times. An estimated 11,000 people are stranded at the airport because of the closure. Flights arriving to Gatwick have been diverted — some as far away as Paris or Amsterdam. As soon as the airport reopens, officials said their first order of businesses is bringing back the passengers who have been diverted.

Airport officials expected that service to and from Gatwick will be disrupted into the weekend. The runway will not reopen until the airport deems that it is safe to do so. All easyJet flights out of Gatwick on Thursday have been canceled.

Those who are scheduled to travel through Gatwick are encouraged to check the status of their flights well before leaving for the airport.

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