Flight of the whirlybirds

July 20, 2007
By

David Taber

Helicopters overhead are not music to local residents’ ears

SOUTHWEST CORRIDOR—Residents say the Southwest Corridor seems to have become a markedly more popular flight path for helicopters this summer, but it is not entirely clear who is flying them.

Neighborhood resident Bill Mitchell said the rate of helicopter over-flights has increased from five or six a week to five or six a day in the last few months.

Before it was mostly medevac choppers, presumably rushing to downtown hospitals. “With those I don’t like it, but I hope they are there for me if I need them,” Mitchell said.

Now there seems to be a more diverse array of mechanical flying machines buzzing up and down the flight path at all hours, he said. “Channel five seems to be a big culprit,” Mitchell said.

WCVB Channel Five spokeswoman Erin Duggan said the corridor is the mandated flight path for city-bound flights originating from Norwood. WCVB is not the only television station that takes off from Norwood, but residents might recognize Channel Five choppers because of their distinctive logo, she said.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials did not return calls by press time.

Although the Boston Police Department (BPD) has been assigning officers to ride along in state police helicopters when they patrol Boston, there has been no increase in helicopter patrols since the ride-along program began, BPD Commissioner Ed Davis told the Gazette.

“There are several officers assigned to the helicopter unit,” Davis said, but he characterized the program as Boston Police, ”jumping in helicopters when the state is already up there.”

BPD spokesperson Elaine Driscoll confirmed the BPD ride-alongs have not led to an increase in patrols. “We are still getting our feet wet with it, seeing how it will work,” she said.

She said having Boston police in the helicopters makes it possible to conduct aerial pursuits, but said the BPD had not, to her knowledge, apprehended anyone with the aide of a helicopter, to date.

Mitchell, along with State Rep. Liz Malia and neighborhood resident Jafar Mancelle all confirmed a state helicopter paid the Dungarven Street area a close visit in late June.

Between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., alerted something was afoot by a cacophonous noise, Mitchell said, he emerged onto his porch and witnessed two state police cruisers at the corner of Dungarven and Gill Streets, and a State Police Helicopter hovering about 150 feet above the scene.

Malia said she heard the chopper as she was getting out of the shower.

“Our house was shaking. The dog was barking,” Mancelle said.

None of the three could remember the exact day of the incident, but Mitchell said he called City Councilor John Tobin’s office as it was happening. A representative from Tobin’s office said, according to their call log, they received a call from Mitchell on June 19.

Neither the BPD nor the state police could confirm the incident.

City Councilor Chuck Turner, who chaired a contentious public hearing in May investigating an unannounced State Police helicopter touchdown at Franklin Park in March, said he is planning to call another hearing in the fall with the goal of establishing formal relationships between members of the council and institutions that operate helicopters.

He has not received a large number of complaints, but said he thinks, “There is a value in getting more clarity about what the rules and regulations are.”

“It will be good to have a relationship with the state police and with the media [outlets that use choppers] so we will be ready if issues are raised,” Turner said.

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