Reports of Military Aircraft ‘Buzzing’ Rattlesnake Lake, Residents Startled; How Low Can they Actually Go?

It happened around 2PM on Monday, November 4, 2013, in the skies over North Bend.  What appeared to by a large, military aircraft, was seen flying low over Rattlesnake Lake and the Wilderness Rim neighborhood, startling many residents.

Wilderness Rim resident and in-home daycare operator, Kathy Hyland, says the large aircraft appeared to break the 500 foot level/threshold and buzzed Rattlesnake Lake, shaking her house in the process.  Hyland explained the plane “came in as low as [it] possibly could to buzz the lake then pulled up a bit and veered hard left after they cleared the side of Mt Constitution in the watershed.”

According to a local air traffic controller and Snoqualmie resident, Derek Myers, commercial aircraft fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR); are watched by Air Traffic Control the entire duration of their flights; and must remain 2,000 feet above the highest terrain in the area.

But Myers said most airplanes also have the choice to fly under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) if the weather is nice – which it was in the Snoqualmie Valley on Monday, November 4th.

VFR rules state aircraft cannot fly under 500 feet above the surface, or 500 feet horizontally from an obstacle, and cannot fly faster than 250 knots. There is also no requirement that the plane’s operators talk to Air Traffic Control while flying under VFR rules.

Myers added that the C17 military aircraft seen in the Snoqualmie Valley on Monday was flying under VFR rules and therefore only had to remain above 500 feet.  It was originally thought the plane was on a VR Military Training Route, but Myers said there are no VR routes in our area.

Via social media, some residents in the area of the flyover said they believed the plane was flying lower than that 500 foot level VFR level.

According to their website, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does take complaints about low-flying aircraft.  The FAA states they “welcome information from citizens that will enable us to take corrective measures including legal enforcement action against individuals violating Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR). It is FAA policy to investigate citizen complaints of low-flying aircraft operated in violation of the FAR, and that might endanger persons or property.”

Complaints should be filed with Seattle Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) of the FAA.  Before filing a complaint, the FAA asks for the following:

  • Identification of the aircraft
  • Altitude of the aircraft
  • Supporting Evidence: Witnesses, Police, Photographs
  • More witnesses the better, including names and address

For more information on complaints of low-flying aircraft visit

Large aircraft over North Bend, 11/4/2013.  Photo: North Bend News & Forum Facebook page.
Large aircraft over North Bend, 11/4/2013. Photo: North Bend News & Forum Facebook page.


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  • I thought that photo looked familiar. Thanks for the article. I rarely post in the forum but I was very intrigued to find out what they were up to!

  • Thanks for providing this reporting! Living Snoq. is such a fantastic resource for info when you follow up on incidents like this. I’m guessing most of us couldn’t identify the plane, since it was in and out of visual fields and there are trees, mountains and hills in the way sometimes. It sure seemed to me to be reckless flying BECAUSE there are mountains and hills surrounding the winding valleys. Should a 500 foot rule be appropriate in a valley surrounded by 2000, 3000 and 4000 ft. mountains, and 1000 ft. high ‘foothills’? I will use the link you provided to give the FAA this feedback. Good work, once again!

  • Both Air Force and Navy planes must be able to fly in and out of tight spots…military pilots train to do this. Combat doesn’t just happen in level places. Military aviation training is very stringent and takes much longer than typical private or commercial training. Remember the boys who were injured when an ice cave collapsed up near the pass some years ago? The rescue was accomplished by Navy pilots from NAS Whidbey, who had to hover in very tight and windy terrain. All that being said, mountain flying in general takes skill and experience. Witness the number of small aircraft which go down in the mountains. Private pilots undergo special training if they are going to be flying in mountain conditions…but not all private pilots have that skill. Visual flight rules (VFR) allow a pilot to choose their route, avoiding terrain, working with the up and down drafts, and following the rules about altitude. Even commercial planes may, on occasion, fly visually, rather than sticking to the instrument routes…

  • Living Snoqualmie