MERIDIANVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-An ongoing helicopter mystery that caused an uproar in Lincoln County, Tennessee last week may have finally been solved.
Officials at the Madison County Executive Airport confirm that a Black Hawk helicopter belonging to U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the only chopper that took off from the airfield on the evening of February 18th, the same night 911 emergency lines in neighboring Lincoln County were swamped with calls of a mysterious helicopter hovering over and illuminating homes (http://whnt.com/2014/02/19/lincoln-county-residents-say-military-choppers-hovered-lit-up-homes/).
Airport officials said they have no way of verifying where the chopper went, but said flight logs viewed by WHNT News 19 eliminate all other possibilities. The logs show the Black Hawk helicopter departing MCE Airport at 5 p.m. and arriving shortly after 9 p.m., verifying the timeframe of emergency calls made in Lincoln County. Officials said the CBP helicopter, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, made a maintenance stop in Madison County while en route from Arizona to Florida. Redstone Arsenal and the Alabama Air National Guard said they had no assocation with any helicopter flights in Madison or Lincoln Counties that night.
"That's the likely suspect," said MCE Airport Board Chairman Tom Sharp Jr. "The aircraft left for what we presumed was a test flight, and then came back about 9 p.m. The pilots were not from this area. They left, went to a motel room, got up the next morning and left."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Elle Erice spoke to WHNT News 19 on Friday. Erice said the Black Hawk helicopter is part of a Florida-based unit belonging to the CBP's Office of Air and Marine, and was conducting a flight and proficiency check with night goggles on the evening in question. She told us the chopper was in town for an upgrade, but disputed both the flight logs and what airport officials said, saying that the three-person helicopter crew was in the air for less than an hour and did not use a spotlight or any other illuminating device. Erice also said the helicopter "stayed within the proximity" of the airport, disputing the account of airport officials who said the aircraft disappeared and did not return till 9 p.m.
"The aircraft's spotlight was never used," said Erice. "There is no connection to what is described in the articles and what CBP aircraft did while in the area."
Huntsville-based Yulista serviced the Black Hawk earlier that day.
"Yulista has done a lot of work for the government," said Sharp. "I think this is a very isolated incident."
MCE Airport managers said information they released last week about a fleet of Lakota helicopters being in the area was wrong. Managers said the Lakota choppers were associated with another mission at a different time of day.