Pentagon and National Guard investigating use of military helicopters over Washington, D.C.

Two days after the incident, military leaders say they don't know what happened, nor why.

Last Updated:
June 3, 2020 - 4:28pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Pentagon and National Guard officials have not been able to explain why a National Guard helicopter hovered low over protestors near the White House on Monday night, and have launched dual inquiries, top leaders said today.

“I have directed an immediate investigation into the June 1 incident,” said Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, who commands the District of Columbia National Guard, which owns the helicopters.

Separately, Defense Secretary Mark Esper — who previously served in the D.C. National Guard — said he has asked the Secretary of the Army to determine “what happened and why and report back to me.”

In the Monday incident, at least two helicopters flew low over Washington, D.C., according to eyewitnesses and reports on social media. The helicopters included a UH-72 Lakota and a UH-60 Black Hawk, painted in U.S. Army colors. The Lakota was painted with red crosses designating it as a medical aircraft.

The helicopters reportedly hovered in place, low enough for their rotor wash to knock down tree branches and kick up ground debris.

Immediately following the incident, no agency claimed to own the helicopters. Last night, the D.C. National Guard said that the aircraft belonged to them.

This morning, neither Walker nor Esper seemed to know what the helicopters' mission was on Monday night. But the Lakota, which was painted with medevac markings, was not on a medical evacuation mission, Esper told reporters today at the Pentagon.

“I got a report back that they were asked by law enforcement to look at a checkpoint, a National Guard checkpoint, to see if there were protesters around,” Esper said. Later, he added, “But I need to learn more about what’s going on.” 

“These helicopters have sensors that allow them to detect threats based on heat signatures,” Dale McElhattan, former director of the Office of Hostage Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, told Just the News.

When used on people, the sensors can detect minute variations in temperature, he said. The variations can determine whether someone is carrying a weapon, down to the size of a handgun. When used on vehicles, the sensors can detect engine activity, and whether a car is wired to explode.

Questions have centered on actions from the Lakota, which hovered the lowest of the two aircraft.

Because Washington is within the flight path of Reagan National Airports, low-level flight for helicopters is mandated in the District of Columbia, one former military helicopter pilot told Just the News. The pilot did not have knowledge of Monday night’s events. 

In his statement today, Walker implied that the maneuvers were not safe.

“I hold all members of the District of Columbia National Guard to the highest of standards,” Walker said in a statement. “We live and work in the District, and we are dedicated to the service of our nation.”

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