The Coast News Group
Beachgoers at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach have a close encounter a U.S. Army CH-47 helicopter, like the one pictured, on Aug. 19. Photo by Capt. Peter Smedberg
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Army copter flies too close for comfort

REGION — North County beachgoers had a close encounter with military aircraft Aug. 19 after an Army helicopter apparently flew so low that in Solana Beach, one youngster was able to have a quick “How do you do?” with one of the occupants.

“Umbrellas, blankets and chairs were blowing all over,” said County Supervisor Dave Roberts, a Solana Beach resident who was at Fletcher Cove with his family when the incident occurred. “I couldn’t believe it was happening.”

The helicopter flew along the water’s edge. Roberts said based on the height of the steep bluffs near Fletcher Cove he estimates it was about 30 feet off the ground.

“The first thing I did was make sure all my kids were OK,” Roberts said. “My 8-year-old actually spoke to a military guy sitting on a ledge in the back of the helicopter it was so close to us. He said the guy said hi to him and asked him how he was doing.”

Roberts said the beach was packed with kids, “beach gear went flying everywhere” and a lifeguard shade structure appeared to be damaged.

“Luckily, no one was hurt,” he added. “If I wasn’t there I wouldn’t have believed it. It was really strange.”

“This was apparently the third time in the past week they’ve flown by too close,” Solana Beach City Manager Greg Wade stated in an email exchange with Roberts.

“But nothing was quite like what happened on Aug. 19,” he added. Wade said that was “easily the closest to the ‘deck’ they’ve come.”

Initial inaccurate reports indicated it might have been a CH-47 operated by Japanese forces as part of Operation Dawn Blitz, an annual exercise to simulate an amphibious assault that incorporates the military of several U.S. allies.

Wade said he reached out to liaisons at the Coronado Naval Air Base and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and was told it was an Army helicopter out of El Centro. Neither could “speak to why it happened,” Wade added.

“I was assured that the Army was advised not to do it again,” he said.

Wade said he initially thought the lifeguards would have to replace their new tower umbrella because it was “lifted off the ground by the rotor wind” and broke when it landed.

“But it just blew inside out and one of the lifeguards, who is pretty handy, was able to fix it,” Wade said.

“I’m just happy that no one was hit by it or any of the other umbrellas that were sent flying across the beach,” he said.

Someone in Del Mar recorded the aircraft as it flew northbound over the beach in that city. Roberts said according to accounts from two Solana Beach witnesses it was low in Del Mar “but when it flew over (Solana Beach) it was much closer.”