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U.S. Customs' drones back in air after crash investigation

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[February 08, 2014]  WASHINGTON (Reuters)  U.S. Customs and Border Protection put its drones back in the air on Friday after an investigation into a crash that grounded its unmanned aircraft fleet, the agency said.

The nine drones were grounded when a mechanical problem forced operators to crash one of the pilotless aircraft on January 28 off the Southern California coast.

"Effective today, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has lifted the temporary grounding of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems," spokesman Michael Friel said in an email.

Initial findings from an investigation of the crash showed that the $12 million drone's generator failed and that the flight crew reacted properly, he said.

"Appropriate mechanical steps" have been taken to address potential problems on the other aircraft, Friel said.

The California crash was the second by one of the agency's drones since it began using the unmanned aerial surveillance technology in 2006.

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The Customs drones are Predator B models made by privately held General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. They are used to spot illegal border crossers and narcotics traffickers.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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