PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — When helicopters buzzed PNC Park Tuesday night, Chuck Davidson of Chicago was by the left field foul pole.
“We thought it was Vietnam or MASH or something. That’s what it sounded like to me,” Davidson told KDKA political editor Jon Delano. He was hardly alone.
“There was a bunch of them,” said Al Caldwell of Columbus.
Delano: “Where did you hear them?”
Caldwell: “At the William Penn. They were flying around the rooms and such. You could hear them running around through there.”
And it wasn’t just in Downtown Pittsburgh.
“My friend told me she saw about six helicopters riding all over the Robinson area, and she was pretty nervous about it,” noted Ally Lerda of South Fayette.
These choppers were flying lower than normal.
The buzzing of area residences by helicopters is not something that happened right out of the blue. City officials say it’s been in the works for over a year with the Department of Defense and other agencies.
The whole project began last week and is likely to end this weekend, if not sooner.
So what exactly is going on here?
“The exercise, the planning for it, has been going on for a year. It has nothing to do with current events whether it be in western Pennsylvania or the nation, but it’s working hand-in-hand with our federal partners,” says Wendell Hissrich, Pittsburgh’s public safety director.
Hissrich says the Defense Department is working closely with local law enforcement on tactical training, including SWAT training.
“It’s not only SWAT. There’s other parts of the training that is very beneficial to the partners here that we’re working with.”
Delano: “Are your police officers up in these helicopters?”
Hissrich: “I don’t want to get into that.”
Hissrich would not answer specific questions about the tactics, but said the training at federal expense was saving local taxpayers money.
“We would spend thousands of dollars for vendors to provide us. That’s the benefit to the city and to the suburban communities as well,” he said.
What’s unusual this week is the choppers are flying at night, although no later than midnight.
The public safety director said he really wants to thank the public for understanding and putting up with the inconvenience and surprise of training exercises taking place so close to their homes.
And he says the more-than-a-few defense officials in town — he won’t specify how many — have been pleased with this training venue and their reception here.
Assuming decent weather, these exercises in the sky will end Thursday night. But, Wednesday, for the third night in a row the choppers were out. Four or five helicopters flew very low near PNC Park. They were so loud, the players actually stopped and waited for them to pass by.