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Military finds pieces of crashed drone; investigation continues

Ryan Delaney
WRVO News File Photo
An MQ-9 Reaper drone, like this one seen in a hanger at Hancock Airfield, crashed Tuesday into Lake Ontario. The MQ-9s are operated by the 174th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard.

Updated, Thursday, 8:26 p.m.:

The Air National Guard has found pieces of its unmanned drone that crashed into Lake Ontario earlier this week.

Recovery efforts continued on Thursday and debris was found along the shoreline, according to Maj. Sandy Stoquert, a public affairs officer for the 174th Attack Wing based in Syracuse.

The MQ-9 Reaper crashed into the eastern part of the lake Tuesday afternoon during a training flight that had taken off three hours earlier from Ft. Drum.

The guard unit has requested assistance from the Air Force to help locate its drone, but none has been provided yet. Shoreline search efforts will continue Friday, Stoquert said.

Stoquert said the investigation, which will be conducted by an Air Force safety board, is ongoing. All flight operations at the 174th remain grounded. 

Updated, Thursday, 11:29 a.m.:

The ground search for parts of the MQ-9 Reaper drone that crashed into Lake Ontario Tuesday afternoon has resumed.

Military personnel are walking the lake's eastern shoreline in hopes of finding pieces of the multi-million dollar aircraft. It crashed into the lake while on a training flight being conducted the 174th Air National Guard Attack Wing based in Syracuse.

The 174th has asked the U.S. Air Force for help in finding the drone, but no other information on the request has been released. Without Air Force coordination, no boats or aircraft will be deployed in the search.

The investigation into the crash is expected to take about a month.

Updated, Thursday, 8:03 a.m.:

The 66 foot wide Air National Guard's unmanned drone that crashed into Lake Ontario will have to be found manually. It remains missing nearly two days after it crashed into the eastern part of the lake.

The MQ-9 Reaper drone commanded by the 174th Attack Wing based in Syracuse is not equipped with an emergency beacon, according to manufacturer General Atomics. It also does not have any sort of black box like manned aircraft.

"The 174th continues to compile information and data to assist in the safety investigation," Maj. Sandy Stoquert, a public affairs officer, said in a statement late Wednesday. "This investigation is a long and deliberate process which can last in excess of a month."

That investigation will be handled by the Air Force.

The 174th requested assistance in finding their drone from the Air Force yesterday, but no help had come as of last night. Instead guard members combed the shoreline to look for parts.

Updated, Wednesday, 3:39 p.m.:

Members of the Air National Guard's 174th Attack Wing spent the day combing the shoreline of Lake Ontario looking for an unmanned drone they lost yesterday during a training flight, as they awaited assistance from the U.S. Air Force in recovery efforts.

The Air Force had not responded to a request for air support in the search as of this afternoon, according to Maj. Sandy Stoquert of the 174th. The request was sent in at about 10 a.m.

The military says the drone crashed into the eastern part of the lake about 12 miles off shore around 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t carrying weapons and no one was hurt.

A Coast Guard boat and helicopter helped in the initial search yesterday until it was suspended for darkness and weather.

An investigation team from the Air Force was on its way to Syracuse late this morning, Stoquert said. Flight operations at Hancock Airfield, where the 174th unit is based, have been suspended.

The MQ-9 Reaper drone is used by the 174th to train Air Force pilots who use it on surveillance and attack missions globally.

More on the crash is below.

Updated, Wednesday, 10:56 a.m.:

The search for a downed military drone that crashed into Lake Ontario Tuesday will resume soon.

The 174th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard put out a request for assistance in recovering an unmanned drone it lost in the eastern part of the lake around 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon, according to a spokeswomen for the unit.

Maj. Sandy Stoquert said at 10 a.m. they asked the U.S. Air Force for air support in finding the MQ-9 Reaper which is believed to have gone down about 12 miles off shore during a training flight. What today's recovery effort will entail is up to the Air Force, Stoquert said.

It is currently snowing in Oswego. Snow and darkness suspended the search yesterday evening around 6 p.m. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and boat were involved in the initial search. The MQ-9 has a wing span of 66 feet and weighs about 8,000 pounds.

Members of the U.S. Air Force's safety board are on their way to Syracuse to assist in the crash investigation, Stoquert said. She did not know if the Reaper has an emergency beacon on board.

Flights by the 174th Wing have been suspended.

More information on the accident is below.

Updated, Wednesday 7:52 a.m.:

Recovery efforts for the MQ-9 Reaper drone that crashed into Lake Ontario Tuesday afternoon have not yet resumed, according to military sources.

Boats at U.S. Coast Guard Station Oswego were all moored in harbor this morning, according to Petty Officer Nicole Brooks. They were involved in the initial search and recovery efforts yesterday along with a helicopter from Station Buffalo and crews from Fort Drum. Brooks said their station has no further orders at this time.

The Reaper is operated by the 174th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard stationed at Hancock Airfield in Syracuse. A spokeswoman told WRVO they will hold a meeting at 9 a.m. this morning to coordinate recovery efforts.

Those recovery efforts and the investigation into the crash have been taken over by the U.S. Air Force, according to Maj. Jeff Brown, spokesman for the 174th Attack Wing.

Updated, Tuesday 7:29 p.m.:

Clarification: This post has been updated as to the cost of an MQ-9 Reaper.

Bad weather has suspended the U.S. Coast Guard's search for a downed unmanned military drone in Lake Ontario, which crashed while on a training flight earlier this afternoon.

Credit 174th Attack Wing / Air National Guard
Air National Guard
The red 'X' marks the approximate location where an MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed in Lake Ontario on a training flight.

The MQ-9 Reaper, operated by the 174th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard based in Syracuse, went down in military airspace about 20 miles northeast of the Port of Oswego around 1 p.m. Tuesday, Air Guard officials said at a media briefing this evening. It look off from the airfield at Fort Drum.

The drone was not carrying weapons and no one was hurt, according to military officials.

The U.S. Coast Guard was conducting the search for the aircraft, which has a 66-foot wing span and weighs four tons, but did not locate it before the search was called off due to weather and darkness.

A boat from Station Oswego and a Helicopter from Station Buffalo took part in the recovery efforts. The search will resume in the morning, though the time was not specified at the briefing.

"I think it’s a combination of parts floating and parts not floating. We’ll see what actually does float and come up on shore,” Col. Greg Semmel, commander of the 174th Attack Wing said.

An investigation into the cause of the crash is underway.

"Safety is our number one priority at this point, so we’re going to let that investigative team do their job, and as we come up with the results of what happened with the airplane, we’ll make it even safer before we proceed,” Semmel said.

There were two drones involved in the training exercise and the mission was going normally until the crash, according to Semmel. They had been in the air for three hours before the accident.

Operations from Hancock Airfield in Syracuse, where the wing is headquartered, have been suspended.

The 174th began operating drones in 2010. Pilots conduct missions overseas from remote cockpits at Hancock Airfield. Training missions take place in military airspace in upstate New York that includes Lake Ontario, the Adirondack Mountains and part of the city of Syracuse.

The MQ-9 Reaper costs about $4 million, according to Semmel, but based on Air Force documents, they cost about $14 million each including ground equipment.

Our original post, Tuesday 3:44 p.m.:


The U.S. Coast Guard out of Oswego, N.Y. is searching for a military drone that crashed into eastern Lake Ontario this afternoon while on a training flight.

The drone, a MQ-9 Reaper, took off from Wheeler Sack Army Airfield at Fort Drum and crashed into the lake at about 1 p.m., according to the 174th Air National Guard Attack Wing out of Syracuse that operates the drone unit.

The drone was flying in military airspace when it went down and was not carrying weapons. No one was injured, according to the Air National Guard.

As of about 5:30 p.m., the drone had not been located, according to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is searching for the aircraft based on its last known location, and with night vision equipment the search is continuing into the night, Petty Officer Nicole Brooks at the Oswego station told WRVO.

The 174th Attack Wing has scheduled a 6 p.m. news conference to discuss the accident and we will have updates then.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.