Mysterious drones causing 'huge strain' on resources in small town on eastern Plains

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HUGO, Colo. -- While mysterious drone sightings have been dominating the night sky in northeast Colorado, Lincoln County on the eastern Plains says it is experiencing the same thing.

“Hugo is a small town. It’s a tight-knit community,” Cpt. Michael Yowell with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office told FOX31. “I’m watching the traffic going by on our main street and I can tell you who’s driving those cars.”

It’s a rural landscape set in routine. That is part of Hugo’s charm.

“This is truly the epitome of 'everybody knows everybody',” Yowell said.

That is, until the sun goes down.

“We enjoy a couple hours after the sun goes down and then it’s not too long after that, our cellphones start going ballistic,” he said.

Dispatch received its first call about drones in northern Lincoln County on Dec. 26. At that time, responding deputies were unable to find anything to back up the sighting.

“On the 29, a sergeant with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office did observe multiple drones in formation in northern Lincoln County,” Yowell said. “That’s when it started and it hasn’t stopped yet.”

According to Yowell, the drones are the same kind that have been reported in Weld, Morgan, Logan, Washington, Yuma and Phillips counties since mid-December.

“I understand 100 percent that you need to see this for yourself,” Yowell said. “To all the skeptics out there that are saying that’s an aircraft flying at 30,000 feet, no.”

He describes the drones flying over Lincoln County as winged aircraft about 60 inches across with four red lights and a white light in the middle. He says they move about 45 miles per hour and soar about 500 feet off the ground.

No one has been able to take a detailed photo or video of the suspected drones. The FOX31 Problem Solvers sent a team to Hugo to try to get some answers. The crew set up multiple cameras at Hugo’s water tower.

At 7:33 p.m., Yowell called FOX31’s field crew to point out a drone flying northwest over Hugo. It flew directly over the water tower and camera.

There was not enough light to capture any detail of the aircraft on video. One green light, one red light and two white lights were visible.

Approximately two minutes later, Yowell spotted a second drone flying in nearly the same flight path. This one had several red lights with one white light. The cameras were unable to pick up any details of the body of this craft.

According to PlaneFinder, the Problem Solvers found two small manned aircraft flying northwest over Hugo around the same time. The first was a Cirrus SR22T flying at 10,325 feet. The second was a Beechcraft C.99 flying at 11,800 feet.

Yowell maintains the drones being reported in Hugo and Lincoln County are not airplanes.

“We know what aircraft look like coming into DIA,” he said.

Deputies have logged 34 sightings they have verified as drones in less than two weeks. They keep the locations pinned on map inside the sheriff’s office.

“If there's any question where you’re like, 'Listen, that’s so far away -- I’m not 100 percent sure that’s what I’m seeing,' it doesn’t make that map,” Yowell said.

Deputies contacted the Problem Solvers again at 7:47 p.m. after dispatch received reports of drones making “runs” back and forth over Colorado Highway 71 between mile markers 60 and 66, which is south of Limon. The Problem Solvers were unable to see the reported drones in this area.

Unraveling this mystery is taking a major toll on Lincoln County. Yowell says it has caused “a significant drain” on resources.

“We’re a small department and there’s only a handful of deputies that patrol something the size of the state of Delaware,” he said.

Deputies are still dealing with intoxicated drivers, crimes within communities and other issues that require their full attention.

“At the same time, people are waving us down and saying, 'Hey, did you see that one?' And that causes a huge strain in our resources,” he said.

While Yowell says they can’t find a Colorado law the drones are violating, the presence of them are creating fear among the community.

“Here’s what’s scary: right here in the town of Hugo…the air life helicopter. It’s sitting up by the hospital. It takes off and lands right here," he said.

At a moment’s notice, it could be needed for any kind of emergency across the county. Since they don’t know who is flying the drones, when they are flying or where they will be flying, it creates a safety issue for pilots.

“We don’t know who has collision avoidance,” he said. “And if we’ve got a drone in the area, that causes us and the pilots huge concern.”

Even with the maps and sightings verified by law enforcement, there is very little anyone knows about the suspected drones.

“Obviously, we could speculate wildly about what’s going on here, but we urge our community to stay rooted in fact,” Yowell said.

The fact is, what goes up will eventually come down.

“And one day, hopefully, a law enforcement or FAA official is there when it comes down and we’re able to ask some questions about what’s going on out here,” Yowell said.

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