Chopper drops compass on school playground

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 19, 2007

SMITHFIELD—It was probably not an unusual day at Hardy Elementary School outside of Smithfield on a recent morning.

A second-grade class was outside with the school’s gym teacher, Mrs. Hanlnon, when two helicopters, flying low, approached. Again, nothing out of the ordinary, until one of the helicopters banked and something fell out, crashing to the ground.

No one on the ground was hit by the object, which was later found to be a small compass, &uot;about the size of a cellphone,&uot; according to Sgt. Paul Phelps of the Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating the incident.

Johnny Gilliam of the Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Department, who is assigned to the school as its school resource officer, and others described the helicopter as being a military craft, but few leads have produced concrete evidence, according to Phelps.

&uot;We’re still looking into it,&uot; Phelps said.

Richard Crawford, principal of Hardy Elementary, sent a letter to parents about the incident.

It read:

&uot;I am writing to inform you of an incident that occurred at Hardy Elementary School. … Two helicopters were spotted flying low near the school playground.

&uot;…As the helicopter banked, a small compass fell from the open door of one of the aircraft, landing on the playground. Fortunately, the item did not strike anyone on the field.

&uot;We have communicated this incident to the Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Department, and are working to identify the agency operating the helicopters. Please be assured that the safety and security of our students and staff are our top priority.&uot;

&uot;… Please don’t hesitate to call me if you have any questions.&uot;

The case, however, remains a mystery.

According to Phelps of the Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Department, military officials are usually cooperative in such matters. So either no one from nearby military bases knows of the incident, or no one is claiming responsibility.