NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It's part of the excitement of a Titans home game — the dramatic military flyover timed exactly for the end of the National Anthem. But now NewsChannel 5 Investigates has discovered one recent flyover by the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell may have crossed the line — from dramatic to dangerous.
"General reaction, yeah, it was unsafe," said Larry Williams, a retired aviation safety inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration. "It was very dangerous."
A spokesperson for the agency told WTVF, "The FAA is following up with the military about this overflight."
Lt. Col. Kari McEwen, 101st Airborne Division spokesperson, downplayed the concerns. “The unit that conducted the flyover is in contact with the FAA Nashville," McEwen said. "At this time, there is no scheduled review.”
The November 14 flyover was part of a "Salute to Service" that was intended to honor the men and women who've served our nation. The flyover occurred before the Titans faced the New Orleans Saints.
But this salute, involving four combat helicopters from the 101st Airborne, was a salute that Tennessee Titans fans will likely never forget.
On its social media, the Titans posted a video from inside the cockpit of one of those helicopters. Instead of flying over Nissan Stadium, the choppers went through at eye level with fans in the upper decks.
Numerous videos posted to social media showed how the flyover turned into what one veteran pilot called a "fly-in."
"Some people were ABOVE the flyover," one person posted to Twitter.
Another remarked, "That flyover was a little [too] close to knocking down the flags and camera."
Another called it "spooky."
"Don't remember any other flyover when they flew that low."
Larry Williams, the retired aviation safety inspector, noted that FAA rules for military flyovers "should be accomplished at 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle."
What happened here was something Williams had never seen.
Video shot from a nearby high-rise shows how the four helicopters flew down into the stadium and among the fans.
Another video shot from a nearby bar shows the steep climb of the choppers out of the stadium.
But what worried the former FAA inspector was something we spotted that was much harder to see.
When NewsChannel 5 Investigates slowed down the video, the helicopters pass right beneath what appears to be a cable of some sort stretched across the stadium.
"They went under that cable," Williams said. "It appeared just a few feet from there. So if they had just gotten off from altitude a few feet, it would have been a disaster."
From another angle, the cable is clearly visible.
But from the cockpit camera, it's not as easy to see.
"I wonder whether they saw the cable before they got there," Williams said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "What is the potential with that cable across the stadium?"
"Well," Williams answered, "if you hit the cable, especially with a helicopter, more than likely it would crash."
Just before this story aired, a spokesperson for the Titans responded to WTVF's request for comment, claiming that what appears to be a cable is actually an "optical illusion" associated with cabling for the netting deployed during field goals.
Regardless, what happened at Nissan Stadium on that day with the helicopters flying through the stadium itself, the FAA veteran says, is something that never would have been tolerated by civilian pilots.
If they had been civilians, "most likely those pilots would have had their licenses suspended or revoked," Williams said.