Helicopters over nighttime Port Angeles were from Lewis-McChord

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Three large, loud helicopters seen flying through the Port Angeles area Wednesday night were from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a joint base spokesman said Thursday.

Joe Kubistek said three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flew from the base near Tacoma at about 8 p.m. Wednesday to Bremerton and later to William R. Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles for a training exercise.

The three helicopters, flying with the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, were scheduled to come back to the joint base at about 11 p.m. Wednesday.

“They were out there doing training — what type of training I'm not aware of,” Kubistek said, adding that he didn't know if the helicopters actually landed at Fairchild airport.

At least a dozen people reported between two to three helicopters flying on the east side of Port Angeles or to the south of town between about
8:45 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Local law enforcement had received no prior notice.

Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said that he had not been notified of such activity.

He added that he didn't expect to be, based on what witnesses reported the helicopters were doing.

“The point is they weren't doing maneuvers over heavily populated areas, which is when [we] would have expected notice,” Benedict said.

Benedict added that he knew of no 9-1-1 calls made last night about the helicopters.

“I wasn't notified, nor did I expect to be notified.”

Lt. Jared Hylander, public affairs officer with Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles on Ediz Hook, also said the Coast Guard was not notified of any Army helicopter activity.

Jeff Well, owner of Rite Bros. Aviation based at Fairchild airport, said Thursday the three helicopters did come to the airport but did not take on fuel.

He said he did not know for sure if they landed.

Army helicopters flying to the airport to take on fuel as part of training is not uncommon, Well said.

“I think sometimes we'll have a few [Army] helicopters a week up here to get some fuel and conduct training,” Well said, adding that the a Black Hawk helicopter was last at the airport Aug. 23.

The 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, known as the Raptors, switched their headquarters from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in June 2011, according to the brigade's website.

The brigade has been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the website.

Capt. Jesse Paulsboe, public affairs officer for the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, said the Wednesday evening flight was part of routine training meant to keep pilots familiar with flying aircraft at night using only cockpit instruments.

Paulsboe said public notice is not typically put out for such training.

Pilots from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment flying Black Hawk and MH-47 Chinook helicopters from the joint base had flown over Port Angeles to the Coast Guard base in the late evening of July 11 while conducting a training exercise.

The exercises prompted dozens of concerned calls from Port Angeles residents, after which Mayor Cherie Kidd met with joint base garrison commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. about notifying local law enforcement and city officials about such exercises in the future.

Hodges apologized for the lack of prior notification at a City Council meeting in the days following the training exercises and said notification would be made before future exercises.

Rebecca Armond, who lives along Blue Mountain Road east of Port Angeles, said she saw and heard three helicopters that were louder than the ones the Coast Guard uses flying north of her home Wednesday night.

Armond said the three helicopters, flying higher than the tops of tall trees, were moving west at about 8:45 p.m. Wednesday.

She described the helicopters as “all blacked out” and displaying landing lights, with the helicopter flying in front of the other two showing a bright light on its nose.

“I couldn't see anything but their running lights,” Armond said.

About 45 minutes later at 9:30 p.m., Armond said she saw the same three helicopters flying eastward, with a different helicopter seemingly flying in front.

She said the aircraft were flying slower than before, and the two tailing helicopters seemed to be changing positions in their formation.

“It was like they were switching places, going in front and going in back,” Armond said, adding that she heard the helicopters first and then went outside to watch them.

“They were going quite a bit slower [than before].”

Marni Rice, who lives on 10th Street between E and F streets in Port Angeles, said she heard the helicopters for about 30 to 45 seconds and saw two flying east at about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

She said they appeared to be flying over 11th and 12 streets south of her house at about the altitude a police helicopter would fly if it were searching for someone on the ground.

Rice said she watched the helicopters from her home office and could only see their lights, one with a red light visible and the other with a brighter white light.

She said she did not think enough about seeing the helicopters to go outside to investigate.

“This did not bother me at all,” Rice said.

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 29. 2013 11:06PM
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