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.”