Black Hawks, the flying kind, descend on Tinley Park
BY MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org April 25, 2013 11:14AM
A helicopter passes over 183rd Street near the Tinley Park police station as it participates in a Department of Defense training exercise at the Tinley Park Mental Health Center in Tinley Park, IL on Wednesday April 24, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 29, 2013 6:22AM
Parking their car Wednesday as darkness began to fall over the former Tinley Park Mental Health Center, Steve and Evie Nix weren’t really sure what to expect.
With the U.S. Department of Defense conducting a second night of what was called “regional urban training” at the center, residents had been alerted through automated calls to expect to hear explosions and the sounds of low-flying helicopters.
“I guess we were kind of curious about what was going to happen,” Steve Nix said. “It’s not like this is the sort of thing you see every day.”
Spectators who gathered in parking lots along the south side of 183rd Street across from the hospital couldn’t see much but could make out silhouettes of the helicopters, flying without lights on, as they approached from the south. At one point a cluster of helicopters, including two Black Hawks, flew just above the treetops, parallel to 183rd toward Harlem Avenue before executing a tight turn north.
Vehicles, without lights on, could be seen driving around the health center’s perimeter road.
Electronic message boards along 183rd alerted drivers that a Homeland Security exercise was in progress.
While law enforcement agencies, including the Chicago Police Department and FBI, have conducted training on the center grounds, those exercises have been held during daylight hours.
Because the Defense Department training was taking place at night, the village took additional steps to warn residents, including putting out two automated calls, last Friday and Sunday, to 18,000 homes and businesses, according to Pat Carr, Tinley Park’s director of emergency management and 911 communications.
Rain on Tuesday night prevented using helicopters during that evening’s exercise, Carr said.
During Wednesday night’s exercise, which wrapped up about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, Tinley Park police received about 60 calls, mostly from people curious about the helicopters whizzing around, Carr said.
As explosive devices were detonated Wednesday, customers of Buffalo Wild Wings who’d stepped out for a smoke on the restaurant’s patio facing 183rd were more amused than alarmed.
“This is awesome,” one patron, wearing a Blackhawks jersey, said.
Dave Fortier, who lives in Bloomington but was visiting his mother in Tinley Park, parked outside the Hamada restaurant, using his smartphone to try to capture images of the helicopters. He said he was talking to his 12-year-old son, who was back home, giving him “blow-by-blow” updates.
“This is like live ‘Black Ops,’ ” Fortier said. “He plays this stuff.”
Fortier, who grew up in Hometown and is moving his family to Orland Park because of a job transfer, said he couldn’t help but wonder what scenario the personnel involved in the exercise were training for.
“This is pretty exciting,” he said. “Borderline scary, almost.”
The health center property was sealed off during the training, and few details of the exercise were made public. The training had been in the planning stages for months and wasn’t in response to any recent events, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, Carr said.