U.S. Army “Terrorized” Port Angeles, Washington
(Hat Tip JDear for the forward. Thank You, Joni)
PORT ANGELES – Army special-operations helicopters on a training exercise buzzed the Port Angeles area late Thursday night in an episode that the mayor says “terrorized my city.”
An Army official apologized Friday for the unannounced training mission.
Dozens of alarmed residents called police to ask what was going on and said the noise and lights panicked horses and other livestock.
“They terrorized my city,” Port Angeles Mayor Cherie Kidd said Friday.
“No one had any warning about the helicopters, no one said anything afterwards, and today city officials had to spend hours just trying to find out what had happened – who had invaded Port Angeles.”
She plans to meet Monday morning with Army Col. H. Charles “Chuck” Hodges Jr., garrison commander of Joint Base Fort Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, about 90 miles south of Port Angeles, where the special-operations helicopters are based.
“I want to hold people accountable for this so it doesn’t happen again,” Kidd said.
Hodges said Friday afternoon he had launched an investigation and was meeting with unit commanders at the base.
“I apologize, this is totally unacceptable,” he told the Peninsula Daily News.
“At the very least we should have notified local authorities of the exercise.”
Chinook helicopters used
The helicopters – Hodges said they were four CH-47 Chinooks, twin-engine, tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopters, “big, heavy machines, they make a lot of noise especially when they operate near water” – were over Port Angeles from about 11:15 p.m. to shortly before midnight Thursday.
Residents said they were awakened from their sleep, and that spotlights stabbed down from the low-flying helicopters into their backyards.
The helicopters also landed, then took off, from the small Port Angeles Coast Guard base on Ediz Hook, across Port Angeles Harbor from the downtown business area.
Deputy Police Chief Brian Smith said: “Our watch commander last night reported that we received ‘dozens of calls’ complaining about low-flying helicopters over the city.”
It took until about noon Friday when Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict – who made repeated calls to Puget Sound military bases – was finally able to determine that the helicopters belonged to the Army and had come from Fort Lewis-McChord.
Army Maj. Michael Burns later told the PDN that the training exercise over Port Angeles and the surrounding area was by units of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Lewis-McChord and also included MH-60 Blackhawk attack helicopters.
Burns said the aviation unit is used to transport special forces units.
Interviewed by telephone from Fort Campbell, Ky., headquarters for the unit, Burns could not speak to many details of Thursday’s training mission, but said such operations typically last between two and six hours at a time.
He added that he could not say specifically why the Port Angeles area was chosen for a training mission, only that “the particular area just gave a different training environment for the pilots, something unfamiliar.”
“We do our best to try to avoid populated areas, but [with] those aircraft being so large and so loud, even if we’re not very low, it seems very loud,” Burns added.
Burns said specific law enforcement agencies in the area were not notified for Thursday’s training mission, explaining that such notification is not typically done for operations as short as a one-night exercise.
The aircraft used in training missions can also cover a wide range of territory during a single mission, Burns said, making notifying each individual agency difficult.
“With helicopters, we cover such a wide area, it’s tough to notify every agency,” Burns said.