A caller to the FBI tip line reported seeing a man throwing a backpack off the Ravenel Bridge, which connects Charleston to Mt. Pleasant in coastal South Carolina.
FBI special agents and intelligence analysts, working with local law enforcement, gathered evidence that led them to believe the person seen dumping the bag was affiliated with a local militia group with a violent history. The signs indicated the group, once thought to be dormant after the arrest of its leader, was organizing again.
Confronted with this emerging domestic terrorism threat from a group whose members have exhaustive knowledge of the area’s waterways, the FBI Columbia Field Office’s Joint Terrorism Task Force requested support from the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team and the unique resources and skills of its mobility operators.
Photos: HRT trainees conduct a fast-rope insertion from a Black Hawk helicopter at Laurel Island in the Charleston Harbor. Agents fast-rope when the environment makes it impossible for the pilot to land the helicopter. | Trainees use a rope ladder to climb back into the Black Hawk after gathering evidence. | The Charleston Fire Department’s tactical emergency medical services team gets familiar with the FBI’s Black Hawk. “We are there for the health and well-being of the SWAT team during their operations,” said Assistant Engineer Chad Smith.
Photos: HRT works with the North Charleston Fire Department’s Marine 201 to conduct a hoist operation from a moving craft in the Stono River near Charleston. | HRT Mobility Team trainees divert briefly from their mission to assist an “injured” boater. The planned incident was part of training the operators to be ready for anything. | After trainees practiced administering first aid, they coordinated with HRT’s Tactical Helicopter Unit to hoist the boater into a helicopter and execute a hospital helipad landing.
Photos: Charleston Police SWAT team members re-board the FBI riverine boat after conducting a manhunt operation on Drum Island in the Charleston Harbor. | A tactical special agent bomb technician trainee defuses a device strapped to a bystander during a training exercise. | Officers with the Mount Pleasant Police Department patrol the Cooper River between Daniel Island and Drum Island as partner agencies carry out a manhunt. | FBI Columbia Division SWAT team members fan out as they search for suspects on a waterfront property during a training exercise.
Over the next 60 hours, the HRT trainees fast-roped out of a Black Hawk helicopter to gather evidence on a remote island and conducted a hoist operation to lift firefighters from a moving craft. They rescued an injured boater, ran night surveillance operations and a daytime reconnaissance mission, and provided tactical maritime delivery of FBI and local SWAT teams. They freed a hostage who had been strapped into an explosive vest. Finally, after searching a waterfront property and defusing the improvised explosive devices left in their path, they arrested two suspects.
The scenarios were all manufactured, but the experience gained was real.
Photos: An HRT Black Hawk delivers members of the FBI Columbia Division SWAT team to the final phase of a manhunt exercise near Charleston, South Carolina. | Charleston Police SWAT team members enter a barn where a suspect is believed to be hiding during a joint training exercise at the Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area near Charleston, South Carolina. | Charleston Police Department SWAT team members depart from their final exercise.
HRT Training Exercise
Charleston, South Carolina
August 5-7, 2019
- The South Carolina Army National Guard
- Seahawk Interagency Operations Center
- South Carolina Law Enforcement Division
- South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
- Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office
- Charleston County Sheriff’s Office
- Charleston County Emergency Medical Services
- Charleston Police Department
- Charleston Fire Department
- North Charleston Police Department
- North Charleston Fire Department
- Mount Pleasant Police Department