By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL- An unidentified drone circling above São Paulo’s domestic airport, Congonhas, led authorities to close the airport for more than two hours on Sunday night, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded.
Many airlines cancelled their flights out of the city and directed flights coming into Congonhas to Guarulhos International, Campinas’ Viracopos and other airports as far away as Ribeirão Preto (280 km), Belo Horizonte (583 km) and Rio de Janeiro (433 km).
Two of Brazil’s largest airline companies, Gol and LATAM had 15 and 28 of their flights, respectively, affected by the incident. “Passengers on flights diverted to São Paulo airports will be sent to São Paulo by land and those to Belo Horizonte and Rio will have the aircraft refueled and will return to Congonhas,” said LATAM in a press release.
According to Infraero, Brazil’s government-run airport administration company, the airport was closed after a pilot reported seeing a drone flying near one of the runways.
According to Brazil’s Air Force the military police was called and used its Aguia (Eagle) helicopter to find those operating the remote-controlled aircraft while the federal police tried to locate the operators on the ground. Both were unsuccessful.
Among those waiting in the airport’s lobby were the players of one of Brazil’s most famous soccer teams, Flamengo. After the cancellation of their flight back to Rio, the team decided to go to a hotel and fly back on Monday.
“The Flamengo team is beside me at the airport. Then your flight is canceled because of a drone,” tweeted Andre Domingues on his feed Sunday night.
In May, the National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) approved regulations for the use of drones in Brazil.
According to the agency, whoever is found disregarding the rules can respond to administrative, civil and criminal proceedings. In this case, the pilot of the drone may be arrested for ‘bringing direct risk to the life or health of others.