WATERTOWN - The mission to find a crashed MQ-9 Reaper drone in Lake Ontario likely will be transferred Wednesday to a special Air Force investigation group.
In addition to creating an internal report on what led to the crash, the services Safety Investigation Board will have the authority to call in additional resources to recover the multi-million-dollar aircraft.
The drones operator, the New York Air National Guards 174th Attack Wing, based in Syracuse, has been searching the shoreline since the aircrafts Nov. 12 crash but its efforts have been hampered by inclement weather.
Maj. Sandra D. Stoquert, unit spokeswoman, said the search was called off Monday due to poor weather conditions. There also will be no search today because of the possibility of high winds and snow.
She said the units final day of searching will be Wednesday. Its commander, Col. Greg A. Semmel, will make the call at the end of the day about whether to transfer the efforts at that point to the safety board, which arrived in the area on Sunday.
The aircraft crashed about 12 miles from the lakes eastern shore and 35 miles from Fort Drums Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, where it took off. The aircraft was traveling in approved airspace during a routine training exercise at the time of the crash. The units remaining Reapers have been grounded since the crash.
Though Col. Semmel estimated the Reapers cost at $4 million to $5 million, General Atomics, the company that makes the Reaper, told the Associated Press the drones cost starts at $10 million.
Maj. Stoquert said the Federal Aviation Administration has some information about the aircrafts final path before it crashed that may help the Air Force do a more thorough search.
In addition to the reports of the Air Force safety board, a separate Accident Investigation Board will produce a publicly releasable report about the crash.
Maj. Stoquert said the crash currently is listed as a suspected Class A crash. If the listing is confirmed by the Air Force, the safety board would have a 30-day timetable to complete its report.
Maj. Stoquert estimated that completion of the Accident Investigation Boards work would take three to six months, beginning near the end of the safety boards review.
U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said on Monday that he is waiting until the end of the Air Force investigation before making a full judgement on the aircrafts use and safety.
We need to see the report to see if this is a single incident, or if this is a significant issue, he said.
If the investigation shows significant safety concerns with the aircraft, he said wed need to reevaluate.
The incident took place less than a week after the unit opened up a new $5,194,860 hangar to store two of its drones at Fort Drums airfield. Mr. Owens said he still would support a $4.7 million two-bay expansion of that hangar to house the units third and future fourth aircraft. Money for the expansion currently is being debated as a part of the 2014 defense authorization bill working its way through Congress.
Mr. Owens also said he does not think the crash will negatively affect the regions chances of being one of six selected by the FAA to test integrating unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System. The FAA is scheduled to make a decision on sites by the end of the year.