Shortly before 7 pm Friday night many thousands of South Florida residents were startled by a loud noise that shook homes from Weston to Wellington.
West Boca News received dozens of messages, calls, text messages along with hundreds of comments from readers. We were unable to find solid answers for hours.
Some local officials put out short, vague notices. The Broward Sheriff was particularly confusing:
A military event could mean a lot of things – an attack on our country, a coup, a training exercise, etc.
This morning we did find a release from NORAD that seems credible.
A pair of Air Force F-15s … intercepted an unresponsive general aviation aircraft near the Palm Beach, Fla., area at approximately 7 p.m. EST.
The intercept required the Air Force F-15s from Homestead Air National Guard Base to travel at supersonic speeds, a sound noticed by area residents, to get to the general aviation aircraft where they were able to establish communications.
This leaves us with two concerns about the judgment of whoever made the decision to go supersonic.
First, was it necessary and appropriate?
Air Force procedures require that, whenever possible, flights be over open water, above 10,000 feet and no closer than 15 miles from shore. Supersonic operations over land must be conducted above 30,000 feet or, when below 30,000 feet, in specially designated areas approved by Headquarters United States Air Force, Washington, D.C., and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Going supersonic is not something the Air Force is supposed to take lightly. Moreover, military operations within the borders of the United States are supposed to be limited by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.
The reports are that the sonic booms started in Weston and continued to somewhere near Boynton Beach or Wellington. That’s in the ballpark of 40 miles. At 750 mph (just below the speed of sound) a plane would travel that distance in just over 3 minutes. At 1500 mph an F15 would get there in half the time. Going supersonic got them there perhaps 90 seconds quicker.
We would like to give the Air Force the benefit of the doubt and hope that yesterday’s decision was correct under the circumstances. But that leads to our second concern.
If they’re going to rattle homes over a 40 mile densely populated stretch, alarming over 100,000 people, they should let us know what happened immediately. We heard numerous reports of distress, including police coming out of their stations with guns drawn, children crying, 911 calls overwhelming the operators, and neighbors rushing outside their homes and getting to know each other.
NORAD should have plans in place to notify local law enforcement and media when this happens. We don’t expect West Boca News to make the list but the local TV stations and major regional newspapers certainly should.