Practice flight over city by fighter jets causes stir

No warning

planes have Opening Day role

April 03, 1999|By Peter Hermann and Jennifer Sullivan | Peter Hermann and Jennifer Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Baltimore was not under attack yesterday. Nor was it defending itself from one.

But the sight of two A-10 "Warthog" jets roaring over the city unnerved more than a few people, sparked frantic calls to police and created a spectacle for those enjoying a warm afternoon outside.

"Everyone was looking up," said Dianna Garrison, a dock coordinator with Harbor Shuttle, a water taxi at the Inner Harbor. "It looked like they were feet away from the World Trade Center, especially when they were on their sides."

The ominous-looking planes -- used for slow, low-level attacks on enemy tanks, artillery and troops -- were practicing for a scheduled flyover during Monday's Opening Day Orioles game at Camden Yards.

But with a war raging in Yugoslavia and no warning of the drill from Maryland Air National Guard, whose pilots flew yesterday's mission, many people thought the worst. Either fighting had broken out in Charm City or the planes were about to clip the top of a downtown high-rise.

"One person called and said it was really low," said police emergency dispatcher Kimberly Gruber. "People were concerned." She said dispatchers had not been informed of the flyover.

William Lee, a parking attendant at the NationsBank building on North Calvert Street, said the noise "was real loud. That's why I came outside." A woman called The Sun and said she thought "something was happening. It reminded me of the Second World War."

Given the firepower an A-10 packs, the unease of Baltimore citizenry seemed justified. The 53-foot-long plane can fly 518 mph and has a 30 mm, seven-barrel cannon mounted in the nose that can fire 4,200 rounds a minute.

A-10 jets are being used by NATO to attack Serbian ground troops. The two planes that people saw yesterday flew missions in Bosnia in 1994 and 1996 to enforce NATO no-fly zones.

The two planes took off about 3 p.m. from the Maryland Air National Guard headquarters at Martin State Airport in Middle River, flew over Camden Yards three times and did several loops around the city.

Capt. Drew Sullins, a guard spokesman, said flight records show neither plane went lower than 1,500 feet above the city. He said the flights were part of required safety drills leading up to Monday's game, asked for by the Orioles several months ago, before NATO started its bombing campaign.

"Given the heightened state of what is going with these airstrikes, the good folks of Baltimore see attack jets flying over their city and they wonder what's up," Sullins said. "We do it for safety, so we don't have some kind of disaster with 48,000 people at Camden Yards."

He conceded, however, "that we probably should have done something to get the word out. We do apologize if we got anybody alarmed."

Pub Date: 4/03/99

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