Military-helicopter mystery solved: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – plus, an ‘exercise’

June 5, 2013 at 11:37 am | In Helicopter, West Seattle news | 70 Comments

11:37 AM: Half-hour or so ago, three military helicopters passed over southern West Seattle; now it seems at least one has made multiple passes over north West Seattle. We’re checking, but haven’t seen them ourselves, so descriptions appreciated to help us sleuth – thanks!

P.S. We’ve already checked with the Mariners and, while they have a student event happening at Safeco Field right now prior to the day game coming up in an hour-plus, they say it’s not a stadium flyover.

11:48 AM UPDATE: Just added a photo courtesy of Jameson, while we continue calling around… (Added later: Video from Danny:)

(And from the earlier triple flyover in south West Seattle, a photo from Megan:)

12:13 PM UPDATE: Mystery solved! The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirms its commander, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, is being toured around the area. The spokesperson doesn’t know exactly what they were looking at in West Seattle, though, only that the visiting commander was out on a chopper tour that had included a project at Seahurst just south of us. The Corps runs the Ballard Locks, but we also note with a quick bit of web research that it was project manager for construction of the high bridge three decades ago. We checked with the Corps after recalling reading about another of its officials on helicopter tour to the south of us this time last year.

ADDED 1:59 PM: This may, it seems, have been two separate flyovers, and the commander might just have been the earlier one. Just got a note from Leslie Barstow with Boeing Field, who says, “The King County International Airport’s Air Traffic Control Tower has informed airport staff that the helicopters were Army Blackhawks doing an ‘extraction’ exercise over Alki. They have completed their exercises for today.”


  1. One flew right over our house really low, our neighbor said it was a black hawk. We are at 48th and Genesee.

    Comment by Julie — 11:38 am June 5, 2013 #

  2. Flew so close over my house that the widows shook. Semi anxiety attack here…

    Comment by Jtm — 11:39 am June 5, 2013 #

  3. Flew so close over my house that the widows shook. Semi anxiety attack at 44th & Dakota.

    Comment by Jtm — 11:40 am June 5, 2013 #

  4. The sound of freedom! Love it.

    Comment by AlkiLvr — 11:41 am June 5, 2013 #

  5. Just saw the military helicopters circling my house, I live near the Pathfinder/Genessee school…they got really low.

    Comment by Julie — 11:41 am June 5, 2013 #

  6. Looked like a black military helicopter. No markings of any kind. Just flew really low over the Holy Rosary playground across the street from our house. Made several sharp banking turns which I really don’t like to see in a neighborhood.

    Comment by AnnM — 11:41 am June 5, 2013 #

  7. It came very close to our church steeple at Holy Rosary. We called 911 to alert them and have them check on the situation.

    Comment by M — 11:41 am June 5, 2013 #

  8. Yup. I’m on 55th on Genesee Hill and they were low enough to see the pilot YIKES! can still hear them to the west.

    Comment by jwws — 11:41 am June 5, 2013 #

  9. Flow so close over my house @ 44th & Dakota that the windows shook. My heart is still pounding…

    Comment by jtm — 11:41 am June 5, 2013 #

  10. VERY low. Three the first time heading East. Second time one came in from the west, went about as far as Alaska Junction, turned and flew back West.

    Comment by KT — 11:42 am June 5, 2013 #

  11. Thanks! I figured you’d gotten other emails about it, but hadn’t seen anything on here yet. 42nd & Andover, had two passovers so far, flying very low and they’re rattling the windows.

    Comment by Carrie Ann — 11:42 am June 5, 2013 #

  12. One flew extremely close to the ground over the Holy Rosary school playground, circled the school and went around the church tower so close I thought it was going to crash! Unreal! My windows were vibrating. It was only half way up the height of the HR church tower so that tells you how low it was to the ground. It has come by twice so far. WTH!?!?

    Comment by Patti — 11:43 am June 5, 2013 #

  13. I live at 52nd SW and Andover. One flew right over my house. I’ve never seen a helicopter going so fast and flying so low. It scared me.

    Comment by beth cooper — 11:47 am June 5, 2013 #

  14. That last go round flew so low it shook our shop! I’m between Genesee and Oregon. And it took such sharp turns! Really freaky.

    Comment by Gina — 11:49 am June 5, 2013 #

  15. I heard a flyover earlier in the day. Then saw the last one at 11:30 come up from the South, fly low altitude over the Junction, head west over the Sound turn back for a second Junction flyover from the East before heading West again back out over the sound. Blackhawk.

    Comment by Jamo — 11:52 am June 5, 2013 #

  16. Who are they looking for?

    Comment by evergreen — 11:54 am June 5, 2013 #

  17. It’s a helicopter, folks. I saw them too, and said “Wow, that’s neat.” No idea why so many are “scared” or “concerned” or “don’t like to see them this close to a neighborhood.” For shame!

    Comment by Phillip — 11:54 am June 5, 2013 #

  18. could be Homeland security training

    Comment by JimClark — 11:55 am June 5, 2013 #

  19. Mutilated cow carcasses at Hamilton Park.

    Comment by WhatThe? — 11:56 am June 5, 2013 #

  20. Re: “Who are they looking for?” it’s NOT a law enforcement helicopter. Thanks to everyone who’s sent photos/video – adding the latter as soon as it uploads.

    Comment by WSB — 11:57 am June 5, 2013 #

  21. Good to know. But what are other valid reasons for helicopters to flow so close to the ground?

    Comment by evergreen — 12:00 pm June 5, 2013 #

  22. Flew over AH so low you could feel the vibration in the floor.

    Comment by Buddsmom — 12:00 pm June 5, 2013 #

  23. It was so disruptive over my house it made my TV reception stop! It was loud!

    Comment by Farrah — 12:02 pm June 5, 2013 #

  24. Phillip, flying less than 100′ is neat. But not over playgrounds and residential homes “just for fun or training”. Plenty of other places to do that. This isn’t X-Box. You’ve never seen them crash?

    Comment by george — 12:08 pm June 5, 2013 #

  25. Was kind of deafening here at 41st & Alaska. A heads up would have been nice…thanks for checking it out, WSB.

    Comment by JunctionMeg — 12:09 pm June 5, 2013 #

  26. Are you people fearful of helicopters? Parananoia!

    Comment by Carlton — 12:12 pm June 5, 2013 #

  27. Up in Admiral District, haven’t noticed a thing. But then again, might have just mistaken it for a loud motorcycle cruising down Admiral. Hah!

    Comment by MikeRussellFoto — 12:12 pm June 5, 2013 #

  28. Just another exercise to make us more complacent to increased militarization of the “homeland.” Dare to question it publicly and find yourself on a watch list.

    Comment by Jonnie Gilman — 12:13 pm June 5, 2013 #

  29. This was so low it caused houses to shake and came very close to a church steeple. We unfortunately live in a world where anything can and does happen, so it isn’t crazy for people to be concerned, Phillip.

    Comment by jtm — 12:13 pm June 5, 2013 #

  30. My wife said she saw one helicopter had a “strobe light”. They flew directly over our house in Genesee. I’m a bit unnerved when you say your TV reception went out. Wtf were they strobing? Answers please.

    Comment by E — 12:14 pm June 5, 2013 #

  31. Used to fly the UH60 (Black Hawk). highly unlikely that these were <100 ft above the ground. Even at several hundred feet, they would be very loud and cause lots of vibration in homes below. Likely some sort of training that is being conducted by the units down at JBLM. Normally such training would be coordinated with local airspace owners etc before executing the training. Knowing those units, it's highly unlikely that it was being done for 'fun' or that the pilots treat their training as though playing on the xbox…

    Comment by M — 12:18 pm June 5, 2013 #

  32. Flew right over me as I drove down California. My car shook. Not cool.

    Comment by k — 12:23 pm June 5, 2013 #

  33. Tracked it down. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brass on tour. Added to story. Also adding a photo of the triple flyby from earlier in Arbor Heights – thanks again.

    Comment by WSB — 12:27 pm June 5, 2013 #

  34. A tour? I thought we were broke.

    Comment by DTK — 12:34 pm June 5, 2013 #

  35. Very, very low circle pass over Tibbets Church at 39th and Andover. Easily 100′ feet or lower. Seems a really bad idea over a dense residential area at low altitude.

    Comment by LDB — 12:36 pm June 5, 2013 #

  36. “Brass on tour”? I need their home addresses.

    Comment by Rick — 12:39 pm June 5, 2013 #

  37. We thought the helicopter was landing it was so close, the photos and video posted don’t show how close it was. Seems irresponsible for a tour.

    Comment by Julie — 12:40 pm June 5, 2013 #

  38. My little boys love it.

    Comment by Jim — 12:42 pm June 5, 2013 #

  39. Hm. I think we’d appreciate it if next time they considered flying over the water and instead of our neighborhoods. Welcome to the era of social media where your actions (around socialites!) are held to a higher degree of scrutiny and (thank god) discussion. WSB is a great community center. Thank you.

    Comment by E — 12:48 pm June 5, 2013 #

  40. Jeez, folks…save the paranoia for the weekly Crimewatch posts at least.

    Comment by robespierre — 12:58 pm June 5, 2013 #

  41. So, what did the Brass think of the Holy Rosary Steeple?

    Comment by Eddie — 1:01 pm June 5, 2013 #

  42. WSB, thanks for letting us know!

    Comment by West Seattle since 1979 — 1:17 pm June 5, 2013 #

  43. I’m with Phillip. Seems to be most people’s reaction to anything these days is fear, paranoia and nimbyism. Get over it.

    Comment by Jennifer — 1:19 pm June 5, 2013 #

  44. I would retort that “paranoi” is your fancy, not others. I hardly confuse that with “concern”. Perhaps you can, too (get over it)?

    Comment by george — 3:53 pm June 5, 2013 #

  45. I’m much more scared of the parents picking up their kids at Holy Rosary and ripping through West Seattle in Range Rovers than the helos.

    Comment by Guy Olson — 4:07 pm June 5, 2013 #

  46. Extraction Excersize huh? Must be getting ready for the Alki BEach Summer Mayhem.

    Comment by smokeycretin9 — 4:27 pm June 5, 2013 #

  47. I live in a high rise overlooking Elliot Bay, and these bastards were out there making the chopping noise all day. I gave them the one finger salute every chance I got, but not sure if they saw it. I sure hope they did. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commander, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, can kiss my ass.

    Comment by Joe — 4:36 pm June 5, 2013 #

  48. Joe – please note, it appears from the later information that off Alki, you were seeing THE Army. Off Arbor Heights, the three choppers earlier were from the Army Corps of Engineers, which, unlike the Army crew/s reported to have been off Alki, does NOT do extraction exercises, but rather does dredging, operates the locks, etc. Boeing Field tells us, though, that no one gave them the kind of advance word they can use to get an alert out to the community, so we very much hope that when it’s not classified info, there might be a warning in the future …

    Comment by WSB — 4:46 pm June 5, 2013 #

  49. At Jonnie Gilman…RIGHT ON!!!!

    Comment by Buddsmom — 4:48 pm June 5, 2013 #

  50. Someone / something is still out there flying around. I can’t see them, but sure can hear them One can muffle out traffic noise, boat noise, etc – but nothing blocks out that chopping noise.

    Comment by Joe — 5:07 pm June 5, 2013 #

  51. They were flying low to look into your windows and listen to your conversations. A bunch of paranoid folks in Seattle.

    Comment by Bill — 5:25 pm June 5, 2013 #

  52. Ohhhhhhh praise the baby Jesus and his twelve estranged donkeys – I think they are moving out!!! I can actually hear traffic noise again.

    My ears are ringing. I can’t believe how loud those things are, even from miles away.

    Helicopters should be banned.

    Comment by Joe — 5:32 pm June 5, 2013 #

  53. LTG Bostick is the Chief of Engineers. He’s a four star general. The flights mentioned last year were ones we took with BG Funkhouser, the Northwestern Division Commander. Those flights were on the public website for the Seattle District. Google Seattle District Corps of Engineers for information related to the Corps’ mission.

    Comment by MSB — 6:24 pm June 5, 2013 #

  54. they can do this but they cant bring the blue angels back. Goodbye to the old days and welcome to the new. booooooo

    Comment by w.s. maverick — 6:50 pm June 5, 2013 #

  55. Why would they do an extraction exercise over a neighborhood like this?

    Comment by Raincity — 7:51 pm June 5, 2013 #

  56. Who can I complain to about this nonsense? They left for a while, now they are back. And who’s the genius that decided to do this on the hottest day of the year so far – a day when everyone has their windows open and HAS to listen to this crap.

    Comment by Joe — 8:07 pm June 5, 2013 #

  57. That explains it.
    Missed the copters training, but saw the Homeland security SUV parked by the Junction Safeway about an hour ago.

    Comment by patt — 8:17 pm June 5, 2013 #

  58. I think “extractions” should be left to the Coast Guard rescue helicopter folks.

    Comment by J — 9:15 pm June 5, 2013 #

  59. What a waste of my tax dollars!

    Comment by Emily — 9:45 pm June 5, 2013 #

  60. You’re funny, Joe.

    Comment by DTK — 10:31 pm June 5, 2013 #

  61. For those who complain, Im sure, during a natural disaster, you would love to hear the sound of those helicopters coming in to rescue you…. Nevertheless, whatever the reason may be, thanks for those who serve…

    Comment by MG — 11:56 pm June 5, 2013 #

  62. They hovered right over my house. For a while, I thought Attorney General Holder’s gestapo was coming to get me!

    Comment by phil dirt — 7:51 am June 6, 2013 #


    Comment by Robert — 8:08 am June 6, 2013 #

  64. I found this link about realistic urban training:

    But the key is that ” the military works with local authorities, who are supposed to notify their residents.”

    Comment by Raincity — 8:42 am June 6, 2013 #

  65. Is it just me or does anyone else secretly wish they could pilot one of these things?

    Comment by Heather — 9:43 am June 6, 2013 #

  66. What disrespectful comments from WS! They need the training, so they can be ready in war zones to protect your freedom!
    Sonia Frees

    Comment by Sonia Frees — 10:52 am June 6, 2013 #

  67. They aren’t able to train in slightly less populated areas? So much national forest land near here – not to mention the nothingness in east Washington.

    And give me a break about “protecting your freedom”.

    I’ve seen at least 4 different helicopters around downtown today – and have heard at least one circling constantly.

    Comment by Joe — 1:53 pm June 6, 2013 #

  68. @Heather: Not so secretly. I’d kill to give it a shot. I’ve flown smaller birds and they are considerably less stable. I’d love to try a ‘Hawk.

    @Rest of ya’ll. LOL. Still scared of “vibrating”..

    Comment by Phillip — 2:50 pm June 6, 2013 #

  69. As the spouse of a former maintainer for these aircraft and others like it for over 26 years, I am amazed and saddened at the disrespectful comments directed at our military. :(

    Comment by Breezy — 11:40 am June 7, 2013 #

  70. What a bunch of whiners! Joe -let me et this straight – they’re supposed to train I the forest for urban situations? That makes a hell of a lot of sense.
    The blue Angels ( whom I love and Go to see every time they are here ) is NOT the same as our soldiers training. Are you people for real? Maybe you could sign an agreement that they’ll stop flying by your rented not owned apartment but God help you if you ever need saving, you can do that all on your own.

    Comment by Gina — 2:21 pm June 19, 2013 #

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