It’s a bird!
It’s a plane!
It’s an unidentified helicopter that nobody can quite figure out what it’s doing when it’s flying low near residential areas and hovering and circling over neighborhood tracts.
Last week Facebook was ablaze with conspiracy theories as to what appeared to be a commercial helicopter was doing in Manteca for several hours as it flew just above power line level in several locations across town.
The Manteca Police Department claims that they were informed that it was PG&E doing line inspection work, and such details usually require the helicopters to fly low enough to give workers a naked-eye view of lines that need to be cleaned or cleared, or to get a safety reading from aerial equipment that checks for hot spots.
But there’s only one problem with that scenario – one that unfortunately gives the conspiracy theorists more credence as to what the helicopter was actually doing.
PG&E says that they weren’t the ones flying the helicopter.
I called PG&E spokesperson Brandi Merlo, and after checking with their helicopter operations crews – which checked with their contractors who sometimes carry out the work – I was informed that they haven’t been dispatched to do any sort of line checks or maintenance inspections in the Manteca area for at least the last two weeks.
Merlo said that because people tend to be concerned when they see low-flying helicopters over their houses or in their neighborhoods, her department routinely reaches out to local media sources to let them know that the work will be going on, and that there’s nothing to be alarmed about.
None of those notifications were ever received.
For Joe Molina, who runs a Facebook group centering on following local dispatch feeds and reporting current happenings out to followers, something just didn’t quite add up based on what he said were flight patterns that were irregular for line inspection work, not to mention that the same helicopter was spotted flying much higher and circling over the Woodward Park neighborhood.
“In looking at the videos that people captured, it looks like surveillance of some kind is going on,” Molina said, who noted that because Manteca PD scrambles their communications he couldn’t hear the on-the-ground conversations between officers, and heard no crossover on local fire and EMS channels. “And in some of instances when it was flying as low as it was, there weren’t power lines around – they couldn’t have been checking power lines that weren’t there.”
Molina, who goes by the handle Joe Snow on Facebook and operates the Snow News Network – a video stringing service that responds to calls in the Bay Area and locally to provide local news networks with footage, did say that something caught his attention on the radio, and media reports from across Northern California that day seemed to confirm his suspicions.
Just recently he added federal communication channels to his lineup – including the FBI, DEA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – and after weeks of hearing nothing on those channels, he got chatter just over a week ago at the same time that ICE agents were reportedly serving immigration warrants in Sacramento County and even in Stockton.
He did hear that a helicopter was being used to provide guidance to ground units, but wasn’t sure whether those sweeps made it as far south as Manteca or not.
“It leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and makes you wonder what that helicopter could have been doing it wasn’t doing line work,” Molina said. “People are wondering, and the fact that it looks like surveillance makes you wonder what they’re looking for.”
It’s too early in the marijuana grow season – which hasn’t officially begun yet – for helicopters to be searching backyards for illegal grow operations.
And I’m not even sure that wouldn’t even be a thing that’s done anymore now that every 21-year-old California resident can legally grow a certain number of plants in accordance with the 2016 ballot initiative that made commercial cannabis, and recreational use of it, legal.
So, what was a helicopter doing hovering not that far away from rooftops over a large cross-section of the community?
As of right now that has yet to be formally disclosed.
But it does make you wonder.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.