US drone crashes off Masbate - police

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - The police said a US-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) crashed into the sea off Masbate Sunday, January 6.

The drone, a model BQM-74E Chukar III, made impact on Sunday morning near Sitio Tacdugan, San Jacinto, provincial police director Senior Supt. Heriberto Olitoquit said on Monday, January 7.

Olitoquit said that it was local fishermen who recovered the UAV and brought it to shore believing at first that it was a bomb, until local police checked the item and confirmed it was in fact a drone.

The UAV -- 3.93 m long, 71 cm high and with a wingspan of 1.75 m -- will be turned over to the Philippine Navy, the official added.

"It appears to have been floating for quite some time," Captain Rommel Galang, deputy commander of naval forces in the area, told AFP.

"We will first study this drone but initially it appears to be a UAV used largely in reconnaissance."

He added it had inscriptions and a serial number that "indicate it is an American drone."

Sought for comment, US embassy spokesperson Tina Malone said: "We are aware of reports that an apparently U.S.-made unmanned aerial vehicle was recovered in the waters off of Masbate this weekend. The recovered vehicle appears to be of the sort that is used as an air defense target in training exercises. This type of vehicle is not armed and not used for surveillance."

Malone added: "We are trying to confirm this interpretation and to determine how and when it may have landed in the sea."

US training PH military to use drones

The US has been training the Philippine military to use these drones against Muslim rebels in Mindanao, according to various US and Philippine officials.

In an interview with AFP last year, President Benigno Aquino III confirmed that the Philippines has been allowing US drones to overfly its territory for reconnaissance flights, but were not allowed to make strikes.

CRASH AREA. Google Maps aerial image of the area where the drone crashed in the waters off Masbate

CRASH AREA.

Google Maps aerial image of the area where the drone crashed in the waters off Masbate

Rappler reported in March that US smart bombs delivered by a different model Scan Eagle UAV were used for the first time on Philippine territory in a February 2 attack on Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists.

The raid was the result of 15 months of training and technology transfer from the United States to Filipino forces under a new aid program for counterterrorism efforts approved in 2010.

About 600 US forces have been rotating in the southern Philippines since 2002 as part of the US government's global war on terror.

However the drone was found in Masbate, many hundreds of kilometres from the Muslim insurgency-racked areas where no US troops are known to operate.

Masbate is one of the areas where communists waging a decades-long rebellion have long operated. - Rappler.com, with reports from Agence France-Presse