Armed helicopter alarms west Harlingen residents

Armed CBP heilcopter flying over Harlingen westside // Photo by Sergio Chapa

An armed helicopter flying on an "aerial surveillance" mission alarmed residents in throughout several west Harlingen neighborhoods.

Residents first started reporting the helicopter around 8:45 a.m. Thursday.

The armed U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air & Marine helicopter flew for about 40 minutes over several neighborhoods.

Witnesses reported the helicopter flew over an approximate area bordered by U.S. Expressway 77/83 to the west, West Lincoln Street to the north, F Street to the south and West Tyler Avenue to the east.

Many alarmed residents called both the Harlingen Police Department and Action 4 News to report what was happening in the skies over their homes.

Witnesses reported clearly seeing an automatic rifle sticking out from the side of the helicopter.

Viewer Eleazar Mendoza captured video of the helicopter on his street.

The helicopter flew away in the direction of the Valley International Airport just before 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Regional U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Henry Mendiola confirmed that the helicopter was armed and conducting an aerial surveillance mission.

Mendiola said he did not know the specifics of the mission but said CBP Air & Marine received a request for assistance.

Regional U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokes woman Nina Pruneda confirmed that the helicopter was deployed to support Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents.

Pruneda said the HSI agents were "conducting enforcement actions" for different immigrant and drug smuggling cases at seven homes in the Harlingen area.

According to Pruneda, HSI agents requested help from CBP Air & Marine as well as the White Sands High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA )Task Force.

Pruneda authorities seized bundles with 20 pounds of marijuana worth $15,000 dollars at one home and arrested one person on drug charges.