• WGON

Helicopters over Sutter County were on hush-hush maneuvers


Helicopters flown in the night sky over Sutter County on Friday may have been manned by Night Stalkers, members of a team of secret chopper pilots that aided in the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound.

Two days before Sutter County residents observed suspicious helicopters flying low in the middle of the night, a Sutter County crop duster answered a call from Army officials asking to use his air strip.

"They were kind of tight-lipped about it," Mike Sue said in a phone interview on Tuesday. Sue owns Sutter Buttes Dusters and an airstrip at Clark and Township roads north of Yuba City.

"They said they were on Google Earth, and they found my place," he said.

Sue may be the only resident who knew who occupied airspace above Sutter County on Friday night.

Citizens reported helicopter sightings to the Sutter County Sheriff's Department, but officials had little information to provide. Local police weren't informed of the operation either.

"I would like to know what it was about," said John Hammons, who came home around 11:30 p.m. Friday to see the helicopters over his house near Nuestro Elementary School.

"I went out with a flashlight and illuminated one of them. It was a twin rotors Chinook, and it was definitely 200 feet from the ground," said Hammons. He has an interest in military equipment.

"They were directly flying over my house. They were in my airspace. That's what I was concerned about."

In the last two days, Beale Air Force Base and the California Highway Patrol denied responsibility for the helicopters in response to Appeal-Democrat inquiries. The office of Congressman John Garamendi agreed Tuesday to help investigate the suspicious activity.

Then, a phone call on Tuesday to the owner of the airstrip closest to the sightings finally led to some information.

Sue said he gave permission to use his airstrip to members of the 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment out of Fort Lewis in Washington.

An Appeal-Democrat call to the Joint Base Lewis-McCord near Tacoma, Wash., was returned, but the spokesman said he could not confirm the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment was flying in Sutter County. The unit keeps secret, the spokesman said. A spokesman for the Regiment based in Kentucky is expected to confirm or deny the unit's Sutter County presence today.

As a pilot and patriot, Sue was agreeable to the arrangement of highly-trained chopper pilots utilizing his property.

"I thought it was great. Anything I can do to help the country," he said.

Beginning around 10 p.m., Sue watched as three helicopters practiced low maneuvers, high speeds and rapid deployment exercises. They flew several passes. And as they landed, guys moved fast to unload and reload the aircraft.

"They were on top of their game. It was pretty awesome," Sue said. "They meant business."

Known as Night Stalkers, the regiment employs Army special operations aviation forces around the world in support of contingency missions and combatant commanders, according to an Army Special Operations Command website. They've supported operations Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and New Dawn in Iraq.

Their creed reflects a dedication to secrecy. It states, in part, "for my only true ally is the night and the element of surprise."

In 2011, the Associated Press reported that stealth helicopters delivered two dozen Navy SEALs into lair of the leader of al-Qaida. The elite Army pilots were members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

For members of the same regiment to fly over Sutter County, "is definitely cool," Hammons said after learning of the pilots' alleged identities.

"They are a special unit," he said.

Still, "It was very odd to have that happen out there, the way they were operating," Hammons said.

"For them to come to the Sutter County area and with the maneuvering they were doing in a densely populated, rural area. It's just mind boggling."

He said he is torn about whether a public announcement should have been made about what seems to have been a training exercise.

"The public should be warned about drills, as to not be alarmed," he said. At the same time, "I am pro-military, and they need to do their thing."

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