Havelock News: Cherry Point general meets with Kinston officials over training flight

by David Anderson

KINSTON – The military helicopters that made an unexpected, low-level flight over Kinston and Lenoir County a week ago were an unknown entity to local residents.

On Monday, residents got to see the face of that unit — a very apologetic face.

“I am here, as a two-star general in the Marine Corps, to tell you, ‘I’m sorry; I’m sorry,’ ” Maj. Gen. Jon Davis, commander of the 2nd Marine Air Wing at the Cherry Point, told the members of the Kinston City Council. “That’s what good neighbors do.”

At least three unmarked helicopters flew over the Kinston area around 10 p.m. on March 12, leading many residents to think an escaped convict was on the loose. The helicopters hovered over the area for several hours, the Kinston mayor and police officials were flooded with calls, and social media sites exploded in speculation about what the helicopters were doing.

It was soon revealed the aircraft were U.S. Marine AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters based at Cherry Point.

Davis told the council two flights of two helicopters each went out the night of March 12 on a training mission — military pilots typically train over barren areas of the country, but since the nation’s wars are taking place more and more in urban areas around the world, pilots must become familiar with flying over populated areas.

Davis said the pilots were being trained to “fly over lighted city environments” using night-vision goggles.

The Cobra pilots flew west from Cherry Point over the Croatan and Hoffman forests, and then headed north to Lenoir County. They hovered 1,500 to 3,000 feet above ground level, and maneuvered over property south of the Neuse River, across from downtown Kinston, according to information provided by Davis to the City Council.

Marine officials had contacted the control tower at the Kinston Regional JetPort before the helicopters took off, but no other local leaders, a practice Davis promised to rectify.

“From all of us in the wing, we’re really sorry,” the general said.

Davis found a very forgiving audience in the Kinston council members, and those in the audience, which included the players and coaches of the Kinston High School girls’ and boys’ basketball teams who were being honored Monday for their recent tournament wins.

Boys’ head coach Wells Gulledge gave the general his street address, telling Davis: “No need to call, mark it down.”

Mayor B.J. Murphy told the general that “Kinston prides itself on being a very military-friendly town.”

Councilman Sammy C. Aiken, a U.S. Navy veteran who spent time at Cherry Point, noted the facility’s motto.

“Going through your main gate, it says it all, ‘Pardon our noise, it’s the sound of freedom,’ ” Aiken recited.

WNCT: Marine Commander ’embarrassed’ at lack of communication, apologizes

by Alex Freedman

KINSTON, N.C. – A lack of communication between military and emergency officials had people in Kinston thinking an escaped convict was on the run when it was just a military training exercise.

So 9 On Your Side wanted to know if the public has the right to know when the military is training in their area.

Since Monday night it’s been a mystery as to why their were helicopters flying low near residential areas in Kinston.

“I mean, it sounded like, literally, they were right overhead,” said Joel Smith, a Kinston business owner.

“I heard it myself; my wife heard it,” said Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy.

Both Murphy and Smith say they knew immediately what the sounds were last Monday night.  Smith came out of this pottery studio to look up at the night sky.

“As loud as they were and as close as they sounded overhead, I thought that was a bit odd,” said Smith.

“I sent a text to our chief and city manager and asked if they knew anything.  When they said they knew nothing of it, it was obvious it had to be the military,” said Murphy.

It was four military AH-1W Cobra helicopters from MCAS Cherry Point.  They were conducting night training; the only problem: no one knew, aside from the air traffic control tower at the Eastern Regional Jetport.

Rumors exploded on social media sites.  Some people called it a meth bust; others said it was a search for an escaped convict.

“The military is very welcome here; they can fly here as much as they want,” said Murphy, “it would just be really nice if we knew a little more.”

It’s a sentiment backed by Major General Jon M. Davis, Commanding General for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point.

In a statement released to 9 On You Side he said:

“What we did wrong here was that we failed to coordinate with the authorities in Kinston to inform them of exactly what kind of training we were doing and to allay any fears or answer any questions they might have.  Bottom line, we screwed up and I’m embarrassed.  I called the Mayor personally this morning to apologize and to offer a personal visit to apologize in person and to a larger audience — and to explain fully what we were doing that night and to answer any questions the fine citizens of Kinston might have about the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing or our operations.  He invited me to come on out on Monday evening to be a part of the town council meeting and I am honored to attend.”

We also asked if there any legal obligations to notify officials.  We were told, “FAA regulations requiring radio communication with Air Traffic Control when aircraft will operate inside certain classes of airspace, such as the airspace near and around airports with active air traffic control towers.  Although there are no requirements to notify other civil officials, it is the policy of the air station and wing commanders that we notify appropriate officials whenever possible.”

KFP: Confusion whirls as military helicopters fly overhead

by Wes Brown

Two Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station helicopters performing confidential nighttime practice drills in and around Kinston Monday night left many city residents, including the mayor, concerned as to who sent them and why.

“I feel like an idiot that something was obviously going on and I had no idea what it was,” said Elizabeth Brown, who, outside her Cameron Drive home, counted as many as three black unmarked helicopters circling a cloudy Kinston night sky around 10 p.m.

There were actually two helicopters, Don Howard, director of the Kinston Regional Jetport, confirmed for The Free Press Tuesday afternoon.

Howard said military personnel, believed to be from Cherry Point MCAS, called the jetport Monday night “out of courtesy” to tell aviation officials in Kinston they would be performing nighttime practice exercises between 8 p.m. and midnight just outside the city’s air pattern.

Howard did not know the extent of the drills, only to say they were confidential.

Turns out Howard, the dispatchers manning the jetport’s air tower and the aviators flying the helicopters, were the only ones who knew of the operation.

Lt. Hector Alejandro, of Cherry Point MCAS Public Affairs, could not confirm or deny if any aircraft of theirs was in the air. He said the air station is still tracking the situation and should know more information by today.

A representative at the Seymour Johnson Air Force base in Goldsboro told The Free Press that there are not any helicopters stationed at his installation. A Camp Lejeune spokesman could not confirm the choppers were a Marine Corps “bird.”

Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy wishes he knew more around 8:30 p.m., when he and his wife first heard propellers slowly and loudly whooshing over their home.

Murphy called the practice drill a “thorn in his side.”

“I’m thankful we are free and live in a country where we are defended by such an elite group of men and women,” Murphy said. “All I want is a courtesy call informing of me when they plan to use our airspace.”

Murphy, as well as the city manager and police chief, received numerous calls Monday night into Tuesday afternoon from city residents alarmed by the show.

They had no explanation, along with Chief Deputy Chris Hill of the Lenoir County Sheriff’s Office, First Sgt. Charles Johnston of the N.C. Highway’s Patrol Kinston barracks and Lenoir County Emergency Preparedness Director Roger Dail.

Social media sites blew up at the sight and sound of the choppers, which one Camp Lejeune Marine — based on eyewitness accounts — described as an older model Huey, due to its slow whooshing propeller sound.

One person posted on Facebook there was a jailbreak. Another person comically tweeted the aircrafts were flying in the state championship hardware recently won by Kinston High School men’s basketball team.

But all claims were unfounded.

“Our residents are not used to these types of exercises,” said Murphy, who added city administrators are still looking for answers on the sonic boom that rattled Kinston two months ago.

Howards said in his 32 years as a jetport executive, the covert operations happen quite often in and around Lenoir County, but in non-residential areas where people are not impacted.

“It’s nothing unusual,” Howard said. “It’s common airspace. Down to 500 feet, they can fly anywhere they want.”

Some Kinston residents said the pilots flirted with the free rein, driving their choppers close to tree level.

“It was constant,” Brown said. “Every few minutes, a helicopter would fade off into the distance and another one would pass.”

Joel Smith agreed.

Smith first heard the helicopters at around 9 p.m. outside his computer programming studio on Vernon Avenue and then again around 11 p.m. at his Stockton Drive home.

He watched the two fly about three times in a circular route from downtown Kinston to Lenoir Memorial Hospital.

“I though it was a bit odd,” Smith said. “They spent an awful lot of time in the air for a helicopter.”

 

Wesley Brown can be reached at

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