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Military jet flyover causes alarm


Two loud and low F-18 military jets flew over Tuolumne County about 7 p.m. yesterday, prompting hundreds of calls to Sonora Police and the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department from residents frightened that the county was under attack.

Some people called to complain that their animals were scared. Others just wanted to know what was going on.

Sheriff's Lt. John Steely said dispatchers last night were told the jets, from the Fresno Air National Guard, were taking part in a night-time military training exercise using night-vision goggles.

Steely said dispatchers who fielded the calls first contacted the Federal Aviation Administration to find out what was going on. But FAA officials were not aware jets were in the area.

About 8:15 p.m., a spokesman from the state Office of Emergency Services in Sacramento told dispatchers that the jets were taking part in a military exercise, but declined to give details, Steely said.

Mo Frank, director of the county Office of Emergency Services, said she was never notified that the jets would be in the area and she should have been, given the country's heightened security since the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

"It would have been a nice courtesy of the military to let us know in advance they would be flying over," Frank said. "If I had known, we could have gotten the word out to the media and law enforcement to forewarn residents."

A lot of callers were just curious, not frightened, officials said.

Tuolumne County youth soccer coach Rob Irwin was working with his son's team at Sonora Elementary School when the jets flew over. He said they looked like they were about 500 feet above ground and had their landing gears down.

"The jets were flying west to east, then looped back and headed toward Modesto," Irwin said. "They were incredibly loud and flying slow."

About 150 people watching the Sonora High School freshman football game last night cheered and rang cowbells when the two jets flew over the west end of Dunlavy Field.

Bebo Malone of Jamestown was watching the game and looked at the jets through binoculars while her husband Jon captured the flyover on his video camera.

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