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A deluge of drones fly over Super Bowl stadium, despite ban

| Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, 4:39 p.m.
The Mercdes-Benz Stadium is seen ahead of the Super Bowl LIII, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
The Mercdes-Benz Stadium is seen ahead of the Super Bowl LIII, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
FBI Special Agent John Cronier holds one of a half-dozen drones which have been confiscated for being flown in the no-fly zone over Mercedes-Benz Stadium Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, in Atlanta, just days before Super Bowl 53. The FBI says the air space around the stadium has been deluged with drones, despite a ban on them due to the game. (AP Photo/Jeff Martin)
FBI Special Agent John Cronier holds one of a half-dozen drones which have been confiscated for being flown in the no-fly zone over Mercedes-Benz Stadium Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, in Atlanta, just days before Super Bowl 53. The FBI says the air space around the stadium has been deluged with drones, despite a ban on them due to the game. (AP Photo/Jeff Martin)
FILE - In this Saturday, Jan 19, 2019 file photo, a police car sits in front of Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Ky. The news about Karen Pence's teaching job at a Christian school in northern Virginia that lists 'homosexual or lesbian sexual activity' as among the disqualifying criteria for prospective employees, was quickly followed by debate over the behavior of boys from this school during a January 2019 visit to Washington. While opinions varied widely as to whether the boys had behaved badly, that incident further fueled debate over faith-based schools and the world view of their students. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
FILE - In this Saturday, Jan 19, 2019 file photo, a police car sits in front of Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Ky. The news about Karen Pence's teaching job at a Christian school in northern Virginia that lists 'homosexual or lesbian sexual activity' as among the disqualifying criteria for prospective employees, was quickly followed by debate over the behavior of boys from this school during a January 2019 visit to Washington. While opinions varied widely as to whether the boys had behaved badly, that incident further fueled debate over faith-based schools and the world view of their students. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

ATLANTA — The sky above the stadium that will host Sunday’s Super Bowl is being “inundated” with an alarming number of drones, raising the specter of injuries to tourists or others — or a possible collision with aircraft, the FBI said Friday.

That’s despite an ongoing restriction that bans the use of drones in the area of Mercedes-Benz Stadium downtown.

Officers on Thursday confiscated a half-dozen drones that were flown near the stadium, FBI spokesman Kevin Rowson said Friday at the agency’s Atlanta field office. The cases will be referred to federal prosecutors for possible charges; the drone pilots could face jail time and fines, Rowson said.

“If these drones go out of control — if a pilot loses control of one — they can go into a crowd and cause serious injuries,” Rowson said.

The potential for terrorism is also a concern.

“When we look up into the air and see a drone flying in the air, we have no idea if it’s friendly, or if it’s someone who has nefarious plans and it’s weaponized,” he added.

In recent days, multiple helicopters have been patrolling the air space above the stadium and surrounding area, often swooping below the tops of Atlanta’s downtown buildings as part of a massive security operation.

“A drone impact with a fixed-wing aircraft or a helicopter would be catastrophic,” FBI Special Agent John Cronier said.

Moreover, policing illegal drones is pulling officers away from other duties, Rowson said.

“It has taken up a lot of time for our agents and for law enforcement officers to be targeting these drones when they could be working on other security measures,” he said.

In December, hundreds of flights were canceled and more than 100,000 people were stranded or delayed after drones were spotted near the runway at Gatwick Airport outside London.

Last month, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines pilots encountered a drone around 3,500 feet above Teterboro, New Jersey. That resulted in dozens of delays at nearby Newark Liberty International Airport.

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