A military airplane and two huge helicopters doing loops over Midtown last week were conducting an “emergency relocation” planning mission in case they needed to extract President-elect Donald Trump during an emergency or attack, DNAinfo New York has learned.
The sight of the C-130 search-and-rescue aircraft and two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters making passes over the heart of “no-fly” Manhattan for 40 minutes Tuesday, without warning or explanation, unnerved countless New Yorkers and tourists, many of whom took to Twitter and Facebook expressing post-9/11 concerns.
Sources told “On the Inside” that the flyovers were part of an “emergency relocation drill” designed to identify locations, primarily in Central Park, where a chopper could touch down near Trump’s home inside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, and safely evacuate Trump and others from the city.
“It was the military doing their homework,” one source said.
“They were making plans how to remove him, mapping plans and strategizing,” another source said.
In the event of an emergency, the president would be whisked by the Secret Service north to the park, and then flown in a helicopter to the nation’s capital or a secret government site in Virginia or West Virginia, sources said.
The aircraft models spotted during the exercise can fly long distances without refueling and can also refuel in mid-air if necessary, sources said.
According to sources, the NYPD was given only short notice about the flyovers, and were never informed that the military would be using a plane as large a C-130 with its 130-foot wing span.
“They should have told people they were doing recon, and going to fly at low altitudes, instead of keeping it a secret,” a law enforcement source said. “People were scared, and rightly so.”
“Trump is the president and people would understand that they are doing a recon mission for an emergency,” the source continued.
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill told reporters the day after the flyover that the city was working on improving notification procedures.
“Usually when there is a flyover, we get something through our Operations unit. It’s sent out to everybody,” O’Neill said last Wednesday at an unrelated press conference.
“That notification is supposed to go out through OEM [the Office of Emergency Management], so I know OEM is working with the military to make sure the proper notifications are made. [OEM Commissioner] Joe Esposito is going to have to make sure he stays in contact with the military for future notifications.”
“The public should know about that. What’s transpired in New York City over the last 15 years, we need to know that,” O’Neill added.
Among the New Yorkers who witnessed the circling aircraft was a former federal agent who spent most of his career protecting presidents.
“The park is the closest place to land, even if they keep a Marine 1 helicopter up here in the city, or in base in New Jersey,” the former federal agent said, referring to the helicopter the president usually travels in.
The ex-agent said last week’s aircraft basically conducted a dozen loops from 42 Street west to Riverside Park, then headed to the East River and south back to 42nd Street.
“I have never seen a military training maneuver in the city,” the agent observed. “That type of rescue work is usually done by the NYPD, the FDNY, or the Coast Guard, not the military.”
The C-130, which travels up to 300 mph, is fundamentally a cargo transport plane that can be filled with everything from armed personnel to armored vehicles, including presidential limousines. The plane can also land on short runways.
The model of helicopters generally comes fitted with electronic surveillance, night vision, and high power weapons, and can fly in turbulent weather.
A spokesman for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs would say last week only that the maneuver was part of a “routine training mission” that originated from the 106th Rescue Wing at the Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach on Long Island.
He reiterated that statement when informed of what the “On the Inside” sources were saying.
A spokesman for the US Secret Service in Washington did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment. As a matter of policy, however, the agency routinely says it does not discuss specifics of Presidential security.