UPDATE: U.S. Customs helicopter over West Seattle

12:28 PM:Thanks for the tips. According to the flight tracker, that helicopter over Westwood, Gatewood, and vicinity is registered to the Department of Homeland Security. We’re looking around on the ground and researching further. The tracker now shows it heading north (added) and then south again.

12:39 PM: Adding a screengrab from FlightRadar24 showing part of the circling it’s done. It’s close to our HQ east of Lincoln Park currently. The tracker shows it started its trip up in Arlington.

(WSB photo)

12:55 PM: Added a photo. While DHS has a variety of agencies under its wing, the FlightRadar24 page for this helicopter has a closeup shot that shows a Customs and Border Protection logo. (Added – We got a better picture from its flyover. Substituted above. Same logo.)

1:17 PM: Looking for someone to ask about this, but in the meantime, the Customs website has a one-sheet that says this type of aircraft is usually used:

“… to perform missions such as aerial patrol and surveillance of stationary or moving targets. These LEHs are the optimal aerial surveillance platform in metropolitan areas because their vertical lift capability and maneuverability enable operations from off-airport sites and in close proximity to congested airports.

Electro-optical/infrared sensors and video downlink provide intelligence and communications support that enhance officer safety during high-risk operations and increase covertness during surveillance operations.

Video recorders document suspect activities for evidentiary use. The AS350s often fly with a crew of two (pilot and observer).”

1:52 PM: After looping around the north half of the peninsula a while, the helicopter is no longer shown on the tracker. Meantime, our inquiry to the CBP media contact for this region drew an auto-reply saying he’s out of the office because of the federal government funding lapse (aka “shutdown”).

61 Replies to "UPDATE: U.S. Customs helicopter over West Seattle"

  • JLS January 4, 2019 (12:32 pm)

    Was just over The Fairmount Park/High Point area, too.

  • South Delridge resident January 4, 2019 (12:34 pm)

    Hearing gunshots or fireworks … 

  • AJ January 4, 2019 (12:38 pm)

    I was just about to text you about this but, of course, you’re already on it! 

  • John January 4, 2019 (12:38 pm)

    Monitoring the ‘caravan’?

  • Babs January 4, 2019 (12:43 pm)

    Now closer to junction and Seaview area

  • Swede. January 4, 2019 (12:49 pm)

    Terrorist hunting! 

  • CA January 4, 2019 (12:51 pm)

    so no idea yet why all over?? 

  • melissa January 4, 2019 (12:55 pm)

    It’s damned annoying and I’d think, with all of the wind, not entirely safe. 

  • West Seattle Girl January 4, 2019 (12:58 pm)

    Eager to hear updates on this and very curious who Homeland Security is looking for in West Seattle. Scary! I can still hear the helicopter buzzing overhead as I type this. 

  • jsparra January 4, 2019 (12:59 pm)

    My family and I Thank you for your service!

    • el jefe January 4, 2019 (2:10 pm)

      Second that, thank you for your service.  Thank you SPD as well. 

  • CLL January 4, 2019 (1:00 pm)

    Still hearing it overhead in Gatewood

  • Pat January 4, 2019 (1:05 pm)

    There was one hovering sometime late yesterday or last night too. Makes me wonder if I should get paranoid about locking doors/windows.

    • Donna Snow January 4, 2019 (1:50 pm)

      You should ALWAYS lock doors and windows! 

  • Laura January 4, 2019 (1:07 pm)

    Thank you, WSB. Great to know what is going on above me.

  • D January 4, 2019 (1:13 pm)

    Scum-buckets polluting our skies and disturbing our peace…

    • Question Authority January 4, 2019 (1:55 pm)

      Actually they’re providing the peace, and security you enjoy as a US citizen by dealing with those who don’t want to play by the rules of a civilized society.

      • ITMFA January 4, 2019 (1:58 pm)

        Hahaha, that’s funny.

      • Seattlite January 4, 2019 (9:42 pm)


    • E January 4, 2019 (2:00 pm)

      You do realize that the folks in that helicopter are not getting paid now, right? They are among the thousands of moms, dads, friends, families, neighbors who are working without pay and struggling today because Cheeto-head is a moron.  Current political issues are not why most Customs/Border Patrol workers do that work.  They do it to protect us (not from innocent victims of violence who run here for protection but from bad people who actually do want to harm us).  Just because our moron leader thinks it’s ok to shut things down to make a point or tantrum or whatever doesn’t mean we can stop doing the work that protects our citizens and those who come here for a better life. 

      • mok4315 January 5, 2019 (7:49 am)

        Well said, E!

      • Bradley January 5, 2019 (8:56 pm)

        Like Schumer and Pelosi don’t have an equal role in this semi-shutdown?

  • LAintheJunction January 4, 2019 (1:14 pm)

    Thanks for the info – it’s over my house just west of the Alaska Junction right now.

  • David January 4, 2019 (1:18 pm)

    I am glad that they are wasting hundreds of tax dollars per hour while some government employees are not getting paid because of a temper tantrum by the orange child.

    • sam-c January 4, 2019 (1:51 pm)

      yes, seriously

    • JVP January 4, 2019 (2:56 pm)

      Why do you think law enforcement is a waste?  I’m a typical Seattle lib, and think the current xenophobia from our dear leader is dead wrong.  But things like catching bad guys, stopping smuggling, and keeping the border secure is vitally important, no matter which side of the political spectrum you identify with. 

      • Person January 4, 2019 (6:09 pm)

        It’s a class issue in many ways, which is why it might not make sense to you why people flat out write off various agencies. With Ices policies, and methods, which are readily available to be observed, it’s kind of a no brainer. They are a lower rung of an administrative class that has given them license to enact physical force on individuals, and detain them, many times on false claims or hearsay…because they can. Because some people think it’s harmless and cheer them on, such as yourself. It’s really that simple. To criminalize migration without attacking the root causes…its wrong. 

        • CAM January 4, 2019 (7:44 pm)

          CBP does not equal ICE. CBP used to perform the functions of ICE but once ICE was created they stopped performing those duties. They are now strictly monitoring the border for illegal entry or smuggling. There is an international border in Seattle at the Port and the CPB officers there perform a vital task. I do not support our current immigration policies but it’s not right to conflate those two agencies. 

        • JVP January 4, 2019 (8:08 pm)

          Your complaints are about the administration, which I agree with. The crackdown on immigrants is just wrong. Especially the way it’s being carried out. But this is a policy from the top, not the agency’s fault.  ICE was managed fine under Obama, even under W Bush. But a country can’t just stop enforcing of smuggling and crime.Sorry, I’m not falling into the partisan squabbles and culture wars that the hard left and hard right love so much in these times. The right supports law enforcement, always, without critical thought. The left criticises law enforcement, always, without critical thought. 

    • Ade January 4, 2019 (6:01 pm)

      It sucks to not be getting a pay cut, but I’m sure like in the past they will eventually get their back pay. Just as what happened when Mr. Obama was president and their were government shut downs. No matter which way you swing politically a government shutdown isn’t specific to the current president.

      • CAM January 5, 2019 (2:33 am)

        So if the employees who were furloughed get paid for the days they didn’t work do the employees who went to work every day without pay get double the pay? I’m not saying that people shouldn’t get paid but it doesn’t all wash in the end and there are a lot of people who get screwed. 

  • babs January 4, 2019 (1:18 pm)

    Has been hovering over Seaview for awhile now.

  • Sarah January 4, 2019 (1:20 pm)

    Must be looking for people who don’t use there turn signals or use the bus lane on the West Seattle bridge lol

    • Bri January 4, 2019 (8:19 pm)

      Oof lol

  • k January 4, 2019 (1:22 pm)

    i wonder if there isn’t secret federal court stuff going on… a few days ago, i saw motorcycle cops slowing/stopping traffic on SB I-5 to get a couple of escorted busses onto the freeway in their own space bubble. sounds like court stuff maybe? secret meetings? who knows…

  • Avalon Resident January 4, 2019 (1:26 pm)

    It’s over 35th @ Avalon/ West end of the bridge now. Heard it and knew to come straight to the blog for info!

  • CA January 4, 2019 (1:28 pm)

    So no clue why they are flying? 

    • WSB January 4, 2019 (2:02 pm)

      No, and as I’ve since noted above, CBP media contacts are off work due to the federal “shutdown.” They might not have commented if it was a law-enforcement operation but if it was some kind of training or mapping, they might have…

      • Mallory January 5, 2019 (7:07 am)

        WSB any reason you keep putting shutdown in quotation marks? It’s a very real thing. Those CBP workers feel it. My Coast Guard family feels it… 

  • ITMFA January 4, 2019 (1:44 pm)

    They will have to hold onto that potential “documentation” for a while, if the cheeto continues his tantrum, since the immigration courts are closed by the shutdown.

    • Bradley January 5, 2019 (9:00 pm)

      This is the Schumer Shutdown. Pelosi went to Hawaii while the “orange one” stayed in D.C.. You’re bias isn’t productive.

  • ITMFA January 4, 2019 (1:56 pm)

    What the heck? And immigration courts are closed bc of the orange stain’s ongoing temper tantrum.

  • Maria January 4, 2019 (2:01 pm)

    Since HLS is technically shut down, they are probably playing hooky with the helicopter. Since it flew out of Arlington, I have no doubt of it. That’s where all the corrupt ones hang out.

  • Lola January 4, 2019 (3:10 pm)

    Was out of the office cause he is flying the helicopter.  Love it.  

  • Jim Dailey January 4, 2019 (3:27 pm)

    When I was working in the City a few years ago, HLS caught an in-duh-vidual putting bombs on City vehicles at Dearborn and Charles. HLS isn’t useless.  Very secret squirrel though.

  • Chemist January 4, 2019 (3:40 pm)

    Sorry, I ordered some electronics parts from China recently.  Maybe there was an import tarriff due that I still need to pay.

  • nakoka January 4, 2019 (3:43 pm)

    Tracking illegal Canadians coming down the Salish Sea. It’s about time….

  • zephyr January 4, 2019 (3:50 pm)

    Hey, WSB,Could you please post a link to that tracking website you are using?Thanks!

    • WSB January 4, 2019 (4:25 pm)

      FlightRadar 24. I don’t have the link right now but just google it. There are others – FlightAware among them.

  • Janet January 4, 2019 (4:11 pm)

    Was right over my house. I went outside to look at it and it flew away immediately.

  • zephyr January 4, 2019 (4:43 pm)

    Thanks! WSB.  I appreciate it.  I thought the one you used had a great topographic map display.  .

  • Mike January 4, 2019 (4:51 pm)

    Helicopter over i5 and WSB

  • Lauren January 4, 2019 (5:04 pm)

    I think Customs and Border Control deals with more than their agency title implies. They’re often the agency involved with big nationwide child pornography sweeps, they deal with human trafficking. And of course drug trafficking. 

  • Admiral Neighbor January 4, 2019 (8:34 pm)

    I noticed it as I left our house at 7:20pm. It was due south in the sky (from Admiral area), definitely in West Seattle still.

    • WSB January 4, 2019 (8:58 pm)

      Likely a different helicopter. Tracking records show this one (N242A) left Seattle and flew back to the North Sound in mid-afternoon.

  • Dispatcher January 4, 2019 (9:29 pm)

    CBP makes their air assets available to local law enforcement as well. I call them all the time as a dispatcher because they’re usually ready to go where our helicopter takes an hour to launch (pilots aren’t on 24/7). Just because it’s in the area doesn’t mean CBP is doing something, they could just be assisting SPD.

  • anonyme January 5, 2019 (7:16 am)

    I’d like to see way more money spent on law enforcement.  Ironically, the government shutdown has made us far less secure, and the one to blame never takes responsibility for ANYTHING.  I highly doubt that surveillance was focused in this area on a whim and I, for one, am grateful.  If anything, there should be curiosity as to what they are looking for.  The whining and accusations are ignorant and despicable.

  • Eric January 5, 2019 (6:19 pm)

    These are routine surveillance flights. In almost all cases they are supporting anti-narcotics law enforcement operations. These surveillance flights happen daily all over the country. Don’t be confused because you just noticed it for the first time.

  • Peggy January 7, 2019 (4:28 pm)

    Flying over Westwood again at 4:28 pm.  

    • WSB January 7, 2019 (5:16 pm)

      No, that was related to the Roxbury incident (see separate story).

Sorry, comment time is over.