FEARS about the safety of testing unmanned aerial systems at West Wales Airport have been raised after a drone crashed just after take-off.

Eye-witnesses said the unmanned vehicle nose-dived and left debris across the runway. The incident happened on Wednesday afternoon. The vehicle was being piloted by an operator at the airport.

Immediate calls were made by local campaigners for a rethink on the future of testing UAVs from the Blaennanerch site. But the airport operators said all safety procedures were followed and no-one was in danger.

An Airspace Change Proposal, which seeks to extend the testing zone over a wide area of west Wales, is due to be submitted soon to the Civil Aviation Authority by the Welsh Assembly Government. A decision is not expected until next year.

One witness to the crash, Thomas Evans, of Llwyncoed, who lives half a mile from the crash site, said: "I was outside and heard the noise of the drone and noticed a change of tone on the engine and then it just went dead. I went down to see what was up and saw the vehicle crashed in the field nose down with debris around."

MEP Jill Evans, who met with members of Bro Emlyn for Peace and Justice on Wednesday to discuss the Airspace Change Proposals, told the Tivy-Side: "I am very concerned about the safety issues, especially in relation to creating the extended airspace for testing. This incident highlights how important that is. They want to extend the airspace over a wide area and the main concern is one of safety for the local population, which I will raise in the light of this incident. Now it is even more important that WAG looks at this."

Harry Rogers, of BEPJ, said: "Thank goodness this plane was not further into its flight. It could have been over Cardigan or Aberporth before it dropped out of the sky.

"This crash could be a foretaste of what is to come if a 500 square mile area of west Wales sky is allocated to the testing of unmanned drones. Next time it could be someone's home or a school that the plane lands on. We need to get WAG to scrap these reckless plans."

Ray Mann, managing director of the airport, said the UAV operators, Selex, immediately started a full investigation into the incident.

"The UAV was taking off when the pilot realised it was in difficulty and put it back down, much as a pilot would if aborting a take-off on board a manned aircraft. The plane was off the ground when he realised he needed to put it down as fast as possible. It did not nosedive, it came down a bit heavy and damaged the undercarriage," he added.

Mr Mann said all safety procedures "were followed perfectly".

He added: "Contingencies are in place at the airport to deal with all circumstances – on manned or unmanned aircraft and we have full safety measures in place. Any airport, for manned or unmanned vehicles is fully regulated."