U.S. Customs and Border Protection drone goes down off Point Loma

SAN DIEGO - A multimillion-dollar U.S. Customs and Border Protection drone was intentionally crashed into the Pacific Ocean about 20 miles southwest of Point Loma after developing an unspecified mechanical problem, authorities revealed Tuesday.

The CPB Office of Air and Marine flight crew ditched one of its unmanned Predator B "Guardians" into the sea about 11:15 p.m. Monday, according to agency spokesman Michael Friel.

The unarmed surveillance planes cost about $20 million each, according to the nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based Center for International Policy.

The drone was patrolling the coastline when it malfunctioned, after which its controllers determined they would be unable to fly it back to its home base at Libby Army Airfield in Sierra Vista, Ariz., Friel said.

The CBP handled the recovery of the unmanned aerial vehicle, which broke apart upon impact with the water. The U.S. Coast Guard provided a security "buffer" during the process, according to USCG public affairs.

Pending an investigation into the malfunction, the CBP grounded its UAVs, six of which are assigned to the Southwest border region, and two each to the northern U.S. border and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, according to CBP officials.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were notified about the mishap, Friel said.

The Guardian, a maritime version of the Predator B, was modified from the standard model with structural, avionics and communications enhancements, as well as the addition of a marine-search radar and an electro-optical/infrared sensor optimized for sea-overflight operations, according to Customs and Border Protection.

The Guardian conducts long-range surveillance in support of joint counter-narcotics operations in the southeast coastal and Gulf of Mexico regions, using video recorders for evidentiary purposes, CBP officials said.

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