NW Kan. residents seek possible explanations for mysterious drones

SALINA, Kan. (KWCH) Since mid December, sheriff's offices across parts of Colorado, much of Nebraska and north and northwest Kansas have been flooded with at least 30 reports of mysterious drones in the sky.

As the FBI, FAA and the US Air Force look into the mystery. those reports continue, including new ones this week in Phillips County.

One of those recent drone sightings happened Monday night in Long Island in Phillips County, just south of the Nebraska state line.

"They're not hurting anything. They're annoying. Is there anything criminal? Not really," says Phillips County Sheriff' Charles Radabaugh.

One man reported seeing nine drones Monday night, hovering near the Kansas-Nebraska state line.

Reports say the drones spotted over rural areas of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas have about a six-foot wingspan.

Radabaugh says the drones usually appear over the northwest Kansas sky at about 9 p.m. after the sky gets dark.

"About last Thursday up until now, there's been anywhere from 15 to 20 flying around at night," Long Island resident Austin Thalheim says.

He says the drones have sparked curiosity in the community.

"About every night, it seems like people are out driving around, trying to get a better view of them," Thalheim says. I'd be interested to know who it is and have them tell us what's going on."

For now, people are left to develop their own theories.

Tuesday, Eyewitness News spoke with a drone expert, Travis Balthazor, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Manager for Kansas State Polytechnic in Salina about the mysterious flying objects and from where they may be coming.

"If it is drones that are out there, there's a lot of different capabilities an unarmed aircraft system has," Balthazor says.

He works with drones daily and says people shouldn't speculate too much on the recent sightings.

"Routine operations are pretty common too," Balthazor says. "it's daily-basis activities that can be done with these. So, frequently flights going back and repeating the same operation over and over again is very common. That agriculture for instance, you know, monitoring crops. That could be a daily operation that's done and it could even be done at night for thermal reasons, looking at temperatures of the canopy of the crop. Or, there's just a lot of operations for (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) at night."

Mary Somrak, a business owner in Salina, KS, said she has had her own, unrelated, incident with drones.

"Yeah, it was about a couple months ago," Somrak says. "I live on top of my business and I got up to get something to drink and I heard like a buzzing sound which made me look out the window. I opened up the blind and I looked out of the blind and there was a drone looking back at me. And so I just started screaming."

To date, no one has come forward to claim responsibility for the drones.