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FAA Investigating After Pennsylvania State Police Helicopter Buzzes Large Penn State Tailgate, Sends Tents Flying

A state police helicopter responding to unruly tailgaters before Penn State's game with Ohio State on Saturday blew over tents and kicked up debris, with stunned reactions by onlookers recorded on social media

What to Know

  • A state police helicopter was called in to disperse a large crowd of tailgaters near Beaver Stadium on Saturday
  • Video of the incident showed tents, chairs and games flying through the air as the helicopter flew over the crowd
  • On Tuesday, the FAA confirmed it was investigating.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating a Pennsylvania State Police decision to buzz a crowd of tailgaters using a police chopper outside Beaver Stadium at Penn State University this weekend.

The helicopter was responding to unruly tailgaters before Penn State's game against Ohio State on Saturday and blew over tents and kicked up debris, with stunned reactions by onlookers recorded on social media. (Video of the incident can be watched above.)

Pennsylvania State Police said Monday that a trooper suffered a broken wrist while trying to arrest a man who had allegedly struck a state police horse that was part of a horse-mounted team summoned when the party with hundreds of revelers got out of hand.

Agency spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said troopers on the ground were pulled back "in an effort to de-escalate the situation," after which the helicopter arrived and flew low over the crowd.

"The helicopter made an initial pass at a higher altitude, but (the) loudspeaker could not be ... heard," Tarkowski said. "The second pass was lower to ensure people on the ground could hear the order to disperse. PSP helicopters may fly at an altitude that will best accomplish the mission at hand while keeping safety in mind."

Tarkowski said the man who allegedly struck a horse was taken into custody by university police.

An FAA spokesperson told NBC News on Tuesday that the agency is looking into the flight.

Penn State's campus police department, responding to concerns about the incident, said officers were dealing with numerous violations of the law that put officers' safety at risk. 

But according to an eyewitness account provided to NBC News, many of the gatherings in the field appeared to be relatively tame. Lisa Cirrilo said she watched police on horseback march down the aisle where she was gathered and turn toward another aisle, where police attempted to break up a party.

"The kids were not that disturbing," Cirrilo said. "It was only after the police arrived that things seemed to get out of control."

One of the helicopters lowered to a what seemed like a hover right above her group, Cirrilo added. Without warning, tents, chairs, food and other belongings lifted into the air and were "thrown everywhere."

"People were screaming in terror as debris hit them," Cirrilo said. "It felt like an attack and looked like a war zone."

When tailgate items began flying around, the chopper gained more altitude, officials said.

In a statement, university police said the helicopter "was deployed as another tool to compel the group to disperse and curb dangerous and unruly behavior. Following the use of the helicopter, the dangerous behaviors dissipated." The university said later Tuesday it would stop the use of helicopters to make announcements outside the football stadium.

An official police report of the incident indicates that six minors were cited with violations of underage alcohol consumption or possession, while criminal charges are pending for those who provided it. 

Video posted on shows chaotic moments as people on the ground appeared astonished to see the helicopter so low, with tents and other material flying around.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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