Military choppers startle downtown Miami
By LIDIA DINKOVA - ldinkova@MiamiHerald.com
If this was a movie, it could be called Sleepless in Brickell.
Residents in the neighborhood saw and heard several military-style, "pitch-black" helicopters flying around and hovering on top of Brickell buildings Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
Turns out that it was a training exercise by the Southeast Regional Domestic Security Task Force. In other words, a Homeland Security operation, that few other authorities apparently knew about, including the U.S. Coast Guard.
Lt. Russ Tippett, spokesman for the coast guard happens to live in Brickell, and said the choppers didn't make it easy to sleep, as the drill went on for hours.
"It was extremely loud and annoying,'' Tippett said, theorizing at first that it may have been a U.S. Customs Operation.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue didn't know about it, referring media calls to the City of Miami's Fire Rescue. A spokesman there assumed it was a film shoot.
Sgt. Bill Williams, who oversaw the operation for the Miami-Dade Police Department, was not immediately available for details.
"I couldn't see them a lot of the time, but I could hear them because there are echoes around the buildings," said Neilson Paty, who lives in Brickell Bay. "We see helicopters every day, but it was very obvious that these are not tourist or U.S. Coast Guard helicopters."
A Miami police spokesman said the helicopters were conducting an "operational" training drill. He was not allowed to comment on details of the drill.
Paty said he is understanding of the city having its reasons to not inform residents about the drill and that he is not upset for not getting any alerts of the commotion.
"It was loud enough to wake up some people, but it wasn't overwhelming enough to disturb the peace or something like that," he said.
On Tuesday, Miami police officers in Brickell said that it was all part of a planned Homeland Security exercise, but confusion about the helicopters was rampant about 6 a.m. Wednesday.
It all began about 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, when at least three large Black Hawk-like choppers landed in a parking lot of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on Biscayne Boulevard and 14th Street.
The choppers then charged over the Brickell and Miami river area. Men who appeared to be SWAT team members were also seen taking part in the exercise.
Witnesses were tweeting as the event unfolded.
"Three choppers just dropped a group of men on top of the Bank of America building in Brickell," tweeted a man identified as Ianik Drouin, about 9:45 p.m.
"I just saw one of the brickell choppers turn so quickly, it had to go sideways," tweeted Sarah Elles about midnight.
Diana Pedroni also had trouble sleeping.
"Oh not again! brickellchoppers flying on top of my building," tweeted Pedroni about midnight.
About 1 a.m., Eddie Prieto was surprised to find out he may have to endure more of it for the rest of the month.
"Five more niths? Boo! RT @Brickellinfo #DoD will be conducting drills through April 25th," tweeted Prieto about 1 a.m.
Miami Herald Staff Laura Figueroa, Andrea Torres and Julie Brown contributed to this report.
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