Customs probes use of helicopter for Va. school stunt

VIENNA, Va. – A high school junior’s effort to get a date to a school dance may have dazzled the girl and produced a big buzz at his Prince William County school, but it’s also raising some big questions for taxpayers.

The student at Patriot High School arranged to have a helicopter fly over the school’s football field and drop a stuffed bulldog, all in an effort to get a date to the school’s “Fall Fest.”

But that helicopter belonged to U.S. Customs and Border Protection which flies out of nearby Manassas Airport. The pilot, who is connected to the student, has been reassigned to desk duty. And the area’s congressional delegation wants an explanation.

A CBP official who spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because the review remains active said it happened during a training flight. The official said such training flights in the Manassas and Nokesville area are routine and said the pilot was not ordered to participate by a superior.

Neither the student nor the pilot are being identified.

Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., says benching the pilot was a good first move by customs.

“You can have all the rules and regulations but if you don’t have common sense, we have this kind of outcome,” Warner says.

The principal at the school did give permission for the event, making sure beforehand that the football field was clear and no one was in any danger. But a spokesman for Prince William County Schools says when that approval was given, the principal was never told it would be a government-owned helicopter.

Phil Kavits, a spokesman for Prince William County Schools, said requests like these are reviewed on a case-by-case basis with an emphasis on safety. He noted that the helicopter in this case was flying at a relatively high altitude and said that students could not gain access to the football field at the time the teddy bear was dropped.

Congressman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who represents the area where the school is located, says he gives the student an ‘A’ for creativity but the pilot an ‘F’ for going along with the stunt.

“This is obviously an improper use of a taxpayer-funded resource. I think we need to know how that happened,” Connolly says.

The recipient of the bear and the dance invitation, senior Victoria Burress, said she has been asked to dances in creative ways before – including a prom invitation of the public-address system at halftime of a game – as high school students engage in an escalating trend of one-upsmanship on outlandish invitations.

Buress, a kicker on the Patriot High Football team, did agree to the date.

WTOP’s Hank Silverberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Hank and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)


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