Sheriff: Mexican helicopter crosses into U.S. airspace, again
Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said what appeared to be a Mexican military helicopter flew over U.S. airspace on Sunday at an RV park near Zapata.
Zapata, Texas - What appeared to be a Mexican military helicopter was spotted hovering over U.S. territory Sunday afternoon, said Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez.
The incident — at least the second reported this month — occurred Sunday afternoon over RV parks on the southwest outskirts of Zapata, a small town about 100 miles northwest of McAllen near the Rio Grande, the sheriff said.
Several people at the parks reported seeing the helicopter, which flew about 150 to 200 feet above the ground before returning south of the border.
“It looks to be military,” Gonzalez said of the helicopter. “But at the same time, I don’t know if it’s being used to transport narcotics or people into the country.”
U.S. Border Patrol agents responded to the area after receiving reports of the helicopter sighting Sunday afternoon, said Jason Darling, a Laredo-based spokesman for the agency.
Agents did not see helicopters flying over the area upon arrival — so they cannot confirm whether the helicopter actually crossed into U.S. territory, Darling said.
“We did not witness a helicopter flying into the United States,” he said. “Not to discount anything else (but) just for Border Patrol’s part, solely, we received the report and responded to the area.”
U.S. State Department officials referred questions to the Department of Defense, which said via e-mail that officials were “looking into it” and would respond today.
A similar incident occurred March 10, when a Mexican navy helicopter was spotted crossing the border near Falcon Dam in Zapata County and then returned to Mexico without landing. U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed an agent spotted the helicopter that day.
That incident prompted Gov. Rick Perry’s office to issue a statement about the “helicopter incursion into our airspace,” demanding that federal authorities boost funding for border security — one of several such written requests for border security enhancements that his office has released in recent weeks.
Mexican Defense Ministry officials in Mexico City could not confirm the helicopter’s crossing via telephone Tuesday afternoon and requested questions to be submitted via e-mail. No response was received by Tuesday night.
Mexican army and navy troops are stationed in border cities as they continue to battle suspected drug cartel members, who are vying to preserve narcotics smuggling routes through the country and into the United States.
“The Mexican military is conducting military operations,” said Darling, the Border Patrol spokesman. “Part of those operations encompass the area near Zapata along the Rio Grande. Some include helicopters.”
Sheriff Gonzalez said his deputies are ready to respond if the U.S. considers the Mexican helicopter crossings a violation of international boundaries. But the sheriff said he has received no response from federal authorities.
“We could knock it down, but I don’t want to tell them to go ahead and do it,” he said. “If it’s something the United States government is aware of, let us know they’re working an operation with Mexican government. Then it’s no big deal.”