KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The U.S. military is investigating what caused a U.S. military drone to crash near a civilian airport runway in the Republic of Seychelles, a U.S. Air Forces in Europe spokesman said Wednesday.
The United States has possession of the aircraft debris, Maj. Rickardo Bodden, a USAFE spokesman, said in an email. The U.S. military and Civil Aviation Authority of the Seychelles coordinated the removal of the debris following Tuesday’s crash at the Seychelles International Airport on the island of Mahe, according to Bodden.
The Associated Press quoted an official at the airport as saying the remotely piloted MQ-9 Reaper developed engine problems minutes into its flight and attempted to land before its fiery crash, which reportedly occurred beyond the runway.
The MQ-9, manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, was not armed and no injuries were reported, according to USAFE. Gervais Henrie, editor of the local Le Seychellois Hebdo, witnessed a crew lifting the remains of the drone with a crane after the crash. Henrie told The Washington Post that the aircraft had burst into flames. Much of the Reaper appeared charred.
“Totally destroyed,” Henrie said in a phone interview with the Post.
According to the Air Force, the Reaper is a medium-to-high-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned aircraft system that can provide close air support, air interdiction, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
U.S. and Seychellois officials have said the Reapers’ primary mission there is to track pirates in the Indian Ocean. However, The Washington Post reported in September that leaked classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the unmanned aircraft have also conducted counterterrorism missions over Somalia, about 800 miles to the northwest.
Citing “operational security concerns,” Bodden wouldn’t say what the Reaper’s mission was.
“The United States has multiple aircraft of various types located in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility,” Bodden said in a written statement. “These aircraft support a range of regional security missions — including maritime surveillance, counterterrorism, counterpiracy and bilateral security engagements with partner nations.”
The Seychelles is located northeast of the island of Madagascar, about 932 miles east of mainland Africa.
Tuesday’s crash follows the loss of a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone over Iran earlier this month. Iran claimed it downed the surveillance drone, but U.S. officials say it malfunctioned.
Iran has so far denied President Barack Obama’s request to return the drone.
Stars and Stripes reporter Seth Robson contributed to this report.