By Alex Distefano
Black unmarked helicopters, secret military training operations and other “conspiracy theories” make for good Hollywood films, riveting suspenseful novels, controversial websites and heated talk radio programs. But, tell that to the group of concerned residents, who this past weekend, witnessed such a scenario play out in a residential part of the city near downtown Fairmount Park and the 91 Freeway.
According to a single report in the Riverside Press Enterprise (PE), there is nothing to worry about. Lieutenant Guy Toussaint told the PE that the drills were part of a military training exercise, which involved “insertion training” or the dropping personnel off from a Blackhawk helicopter and then picking them back up again in a single swoop. Residents claim that the extremely loud noises are what led them to conclude the aircraft was no ordinary helicopter or plane. Others said they were worried that the helicopters were flying too fast and too low and hovering over their neighborhood. This area is not a normal area for this kind of exercise or behavior, and the residential codes usually prohibit the extremely low-flying helicopters. The residents are more concerned with their safety and any larger threats that they are unaware of, but as is the government’s habit, very little information is being shared.
“They went right over my house, just above the tree line,” Woods Streets resident Brent Darling told the PE. Darling, who said he was out Sunday evening for a walk with his grandson, also told the PE the ordeal reminded him of scenes from the movie Red Dawn. In that 1984 film, similar happenings occurred as an invasion of the United States from the north and south by communist forces from Cuba, Nicaragua and the Soviet Union in the beginning of WWIII and then the efforts of partisans from a small Colorado town to turn back the invasion. Now, it is unlikely that this is the case for the Fairmount Park “insertion training,” but full explanations have yet to be given to anyone.
The PE reported that there were several helicopters, but the exact number remains unclear. The noise and low altitude of the helicopters had residents wondering about exactly what was going on. Eyewitnesses claim that the aircraft hovered over downtown for just under half an hour, before, turning towards the National Guard armory and Fairmount Park. Some in the neighborhood even said that the helicopters were still heard after 10 p.m., on January 26.
A news release issued January 15 said that the U.S. Army had plans for the training exercise in the city, on the 26-27, in cooperation with various local law enforcement agencies. “Local community members should expect short periods of increased air traffic, including helicopters and low-flying aircrafts, and increased aircraft noise during this time,” the release said. “This is a routine exercise, conducted periodically to maintain a high level of operational readiness for the military personnel involved.”
“This is a slight exercise, conducted intermittently to say a high turn of operational willingness for an infantry crew involved,” read the press release. “The reserve of use members and an internal village is a top priority, and each prevision will be taken to lessen risks for a reserve of all. The United States Army along with a City of Riverside are intensely supportive to an impact such exercises have on internal adults and intend to sight safely and courteously. Every magnitude to revoke a volume of sound compared with a practice will be taken.”
The Weekly was unable to contact anyone from the city, county or other Riverside or IE area law enforcement agencies about their possible involvement with these exercises, or even confirm which other agencies were involved; but we did contact Lieutenant Guy Toussaint from the Riverside Police, who was able to confirm the drills took place, on January 26-27, as reported, but would not offer any additional details or information.