Helicopter ‘Terrorists’ Draw Fire

 - May 6, 2008, 9:05 AM

Under the general heading of “We’re surprised it hadn’t happened sooner” comes this story from James City, Va. about a helicopter that made what may, or may not, have been an emergency landing and the trigger-happy neighbor who, convinced he was witnessing terrorist activity, took a couple of potshots at the rotorcraft with his handy assault rifle. At 8 a.m. on July 13, James City resident John Chwaszczewski was painting his garage when a helicopter flew overhead at what Chwaszczewski claimed was a very low altitude. The rotorcraft, piloted by John Sutton of nearby Williamsburg, Va., then proceeded to land in a vacant lot across the street.

Distressed by the proximity of the helicopter, Chwaszczewski dashed into his house, then looked out to see a man behind a tree in the vacant lot. Chwaszczewski said the man, dressed in a business suit, ran over to the helicopter carrying a large black box. He remembered how the day before, he had spotted several men in suits surveying the same vacant lot, men who had then left in two white vans. “My initial reaction was this had got to be terrorists,” he told the Hampton Road, Va. Daily Press, explaining that he was in New Jersey at the time of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, and had witnessed the second tower of the World Trade Center falling. Chwaszczewski grabbed his AR-15, the civilian edition of the U.S. military’s M-16 assault rifle, and squeezed off a pair of rounds at the helo as it left.

Chwaszczewski then called local police, although, in the final analysis, he might wish he hadn’t. James City police ended up charging Chwaszczewski with interfering with an aircraft, a felony. He also faces three misdemeanor charges: discharging a firearm in a public place, reckless handling of a firearm and assault on the pilot. Chwaszczewski was released on bond. Pilot Sutton was charged with the misdemeanor charges of recklessly endangering an aircraft and was issued a summons. In one version of his activities, Sutton claimed he had intended to land in the vacant lot to see if it could be done. In another, he claimed he was landing as a precautionary move, after a clutch warning light came on.