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White House Briefly Evacuated
Wed Jun 19,10:22 PM ET
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House was briefly evacuated and military jets scrambled Wednesday night after a small plane flew through restricted airspace near the executive mansion.
The Cessna aircraft landed in Richmond, Va., about 100 miles from Washington, and law enforcement officials said it appeared to be simply a case of a pilot who got lost.
The plane got as close as four miles from the executive mansion, said Secret Service agent Brian Marr. Authorities said the plane made belated contact with the tower at Reagan National Airport.
President Bush ( news - web sites) had returned just 20 minutes earlier from a Republican fund-raiser when some staff and reporters were ordered to leave the building shortly after 8 p.m. EDT.
Bush remained in the executive mansion throughout the incident but was protected by unspecified security procedures, officials said.
A man in a dark suit hurried through the White House press area saying, "Get out, get out, everybody out. Secret Service says everyone has to leave the building." Not all White House staff left.
The incident occurred only hours after staff at the Federal Reserve ( news - web sites), including Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan ( news - web sites), were evacuated from the building on nearby Constitution Avenue after a suspicious package was found in a garbage bin. Police cordoned off several blocks, snarling traffic during the afternoon rush hour. The package turned out to be harmless.
Authorities were interviewing the Cessna pilot, who had flown from a small airport in Massachusetts, and had not made required contact as he approached Washington, officials said.
The plane approached from the northeast above the capital at 10,500 feet, well below the minimum 18,000 feet required for the restricted space, federal aviation officials said.
Two F-16 military jets were scrambled immediately and followed the plane until it reached Richmond. The White House evacuation lasted about 15 minutes, ending as soon as the plane changed direction, officials said.
"Two F-16s were scrambled," said Petty Officer Beverly Allen of the North American Aerospace Defense Command. "The guy flew out of Gardner, Mass., airspace. .... We escorted the guy to Richmond Airport where authorities apprehended him."
"This just looks like a pilot that had no clue he was entering restrictive airspace," said Marr, the Secret Service ( news - web sites) agent.
Gardner, the pilot's point of origin, is a city of about 21,000 in central Massachusetts about 50 miles west of Boston. The plane was headed for Raleigh, N.C.
Wednesday night's evacuation of the White House was the first since Sept. 11, when the building was thought to be a target of one of the hijacked jetliners used in the attack on New York and Washington.
On Sept. 12, 1994 a man flying a stolen Cessna airplane fatally crashed on the South Lawn of the White House.
-- bwaahahaha! (firstname.lastname@example.org), June 19, 2002
"This just looks like a pilot that had no clue he was entering restrictive airspace,"
Bogsworth, was that you? C'mon, fess up farmboy.
-- (email@example.com), June 19, 2002.
"Bush remained in the executive mansion throughout the incident but was protected by unspecified security procedures, officials said."
He lowered the bulletproof cone of silence?
-- LOL (dumbya get smart? @ no. way!), June 19, 2002.
LOL, it's great to see that our "enhanced security" since 911 is really on the ball!
US Fighters Arrived Too Late to Guard White House
Thu Jun 20, 6:01 PM ET
By Charles Aldinger
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. fighters were scrambled into the air too late on Wednesday to protect the White House from a small plane that wandered into restricted airspace near Washington, triggering a brief evacuation of the executive mansion, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
The single-engine Cessna's pilot will not be charged with federal crimes, an FBI ( news - web sites) official said, because the authorities were convinced he had no criminal intent and flew into the airspace by accident. However, he may face Federal Aviation Administration ( news - web sites) administrative penalties, officials said.
The White House was evacuated for 15 minutes but officials said President Bush ( news - web sites) was never in danger, was not moved or even informed of the incident until Thursday morning.
U.S. officials told Reuters two Air National Guard F-16 fighters took off from nearby Andrews Air Force Base 11 minutes after ordered -- well within the 15-minute time period allowed to respond to emergencies -- but did not reach the scene until the small plane had flown away from a "prohibited area" within 5 miles (eight km) of the presidential mansion.
White House and Secret Service spokesmen played down the fact that the military jets did not reach the area in time, saying the agency had the ability to protect the president at all times but declining to discuss its methods.
"Suffice it to say there are multiple levels of protection for the president that are somewhat redundant, that are overlapping," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer ( news - web sites).
The small plane entered restricted airspace at 7:59 p.m. and flew out at 8:13 p.m. The jets did not take off from Andrews until 8:17 p.m., according to the officials, who asked not to be identified.
"This illustrates just how hard it is to do this kind of thing, especially in a busy air traffic area," said one of the officials.
NO CRIMINAL INTENT
The FAA, the military and other agencies have set up tightly restricted no-flight zones over parts of Washington, New York and other areas of the country after the Sept. 11 attacks in which hijackers crashed airliners into buildings, killing more than 3,000 people.
Lawrence Barry, an official at the FBI's Richmond field office, said the pilot would not be charged with any federal violations, saying authorities were convinced "there was no terrorist threat or indication of criminal intent."
Brian Marr, a Secret Service spokesman, said the pilot was flying to the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, area when bad weather forced him to fly further inland than he had planned.
He did not respond to radio messages, triggering the White House evacuation, and eventually turned away from his course toward the executive mansion on his own and contacted air traffic controllers for help in avoiding more storms.
Marr said there had been roughly a dozen instances since Sept. 11 of pilots violating prohibited airspace near the White House, with all of them being handled with administrative action rather than criminal prosecution.
FAA spokesman Bill Shumann on Thursday said the agency was investigating the incident as a "pilot deviation." Depending on its seriousness, the violation could lead to anything from no action to a reprimand letter or revoking the pilot's license.
Here is a timeline of Wednesday's incident provided to Reuters by U.S. officials:
7:59 p.m.: The single-engine private aircraft enters a 15-mile (24-km) zone of temporary flight restricted (TFR) airspace around the Washington Monument.
8:03 p.m.: The FAA notifies the joint North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) based in Colorado that the wider air zone has been violated.
8:06 p.m.: NORAD orders F-16s to take off from Andrews as the Cessna flies near an even more tightly restricted "prohibited area" only 5 miles (8 km) from the White House.
8:13 p.m.: The Cessna flies out of the 15-mile (24-km) TFR zone.
8:17 p.m.: The F-16s take off from Andrews, later catch up with the Cessna near Fredericksburg, Virginia, south of Washington, and escort it to a landing at Richmond, Virginia. (Additional reporting, Deborah Charles and Arshad Mohammed)
-- (good job dumbya! @ can't even save. your own ass!), June 21, 2002.