White House, Capitol Briefly Evacuated
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
WASHINGTON "” A small airplane that violated restricted airspace over Washington forced the rapid evacuation of both the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building (search) shortly after noon on Wednesday.
The incident forced U.S. military jets to scramble over Washington.
Police shouted at lawmakers, staff members, media and tourists to run away from the buildings. About 20 minutes later, the evacuations were cancelled.
President Bush (search) was taking part in a bicycle ride away from the White House grounds.
A spokesman for the North American Air Defense (search) said they expected to issue a statement within an hour on the event.
Preliminarily, officials said that although they maintain that a small plane violated the restricted airspace over Washington, they are not saying where that plane had gone or whether it was ordered to land.
The evacuation was the most urgent since President Reagan's funeral last June, when officials lost track of an arriving plane carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher a little more than an hour before Reagan's casket was to arrive at the Capitol to lie in state.
Pilots Responsible For Capital Scare Won't Be Charged
The intrusion into restricted airspace over the nation's capital that led to an urgent evacuation of both the White House and the U.S. Capitol appears to have been accidental, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said late Wednesday afternoon.
The two pilots responsible for the scare won't be charged, officials said.
Maryland state police were waiting on the ground Wednesday when the small plane that flew to within 3 miles of the White House landed under fighter and military helicopter escort in Fredrick, Md.
Relatives and friends said the two men aboard the plane were flying to an air show in North Carolina.
The alert level at the White House was raised briefly Wednesday to red because of the approaching plane, whose pilot was not responding to radio warnings about the airspace violation.
Two F-16 fighter jets were scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland as officials ordered rapid evacuations of the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
The pilots of the fighters fired four warning flares to get the attention of the errant pilot, said public affairs officer Air Force Master Sgt. Arthur Powell.
The fighters then escorted the small plane to Fredrick, Md., the North American Aerospace Defense Command said.
A Blackhawk helicopter assigned to the Department of Homeland Security also followed the plane to Maryland, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
President Bush was in Maryland riding his bicycle at the time of the incident, but Vice President Dick Cheney was at the White House and was evacuated by motorcade.
First Lady Laura Bush and former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who is staying in the White House while in Washington to attend a fundraiser, were moved to a secure area, McClellan said.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the airspace over the capital has been tightly controlled.
The government established an Air Defense Identification Zone 30-miles in diameter around Reagan Washington National Airport and a Flight Restricted Zone within an inner area that's 15-miles in diameter.
Pilots in the defense identification zone must be in communication with air traffic controllers and most transmit four-digit identifier codes as well as take other steps to let controllers know their identities and intentions.
Posted on Wed, May. 11, 2005
Pa. Pilots Create D.C. Panic
By Chris Mondics, Reid Kanaley and Sandy Bauers
INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
Jim Sheaffer set out from Lancaster's Smoketown Airport today with a new map and a student pilot in a two-seater Cessna, bound for a fun-filled weekend.
They took off at 10:58 a.m., flying south to an air show in Lumberton, N.C.
Just 58 minutes later, the first Black Hawk helicopter pulled alongside.
They had taken a wrong turn - a really wrong turn, fortunately just a mistake, nothing criminal, officials later determined - and wound up throwing much of the nation's capital into a panic.
As the pilots entered restricted airspace around Washington, triggering the launch of the Black Hawks, followed by F-16 fighter jets, the White House and Capitol were quickly evacuated.
As national media reported live, Capitol Police streamed through cafeterias, office buildings and the Capitol, ordering members of Congress, staff, media and others to leave the buildings.
They told people to hurry and urged some women to take off their high-heel shoes to speed the evacuation.
The roar of the fighters could be heard as thousands of Hill staffers, some of them running, fled the Capitol.
"This is not a drill!" some Capitol Police yelled.
Members of the House and Senate and their staffs also were sent e-mail messages urging them to take their protective biological and chemical suits as they left the buildings.
"It was intense," said Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), who was in the Capitol at the time. "The minute I stepped outside, I heard a roaring sound and I thought it was an explosion. I realized happily it was an F-16, but that also meant there had been a violation of our airspace."
At the Supreme Court, guards told some people to leave the building while others were shepherded into the underground parking garage, where Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor and Stephen Breyer were seen chatting.
Officials had been concerned because the plane appeared to be "on a straight-in shot toward the center of the Washington area," Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said.
President Bush was bicycling in a suburban wildlife preserve at the time, but Vice President Cheney, Laura Bush and Nancy Reagan, at the White House for a special event, were evacuated to a secure location.
The White House raised its threat level to red - the highest - for eight minutes, spokesman Scott McClellan said.
After initially penetrating the 30-mile "air defense identification zone," the two men in the aircraft, Sheaffer of Lititz and Troy Martin of nearby Akron, eventually flew inside a 16-mile "red zone," restricted to military traffic and commercial flights to and from Reagan National Airport.
They got within three miles of the White House.
The fighters, getting no response to urgent radio calls, fired four warning flares to attract the pilots' attention.
At 12:11, the plane turned west and was escorted by two Black Hawks to the municipal airport in Frederick, Md., where Sheaffer and Martin were taken into custody and questioned by Secret Service, FBI and local authorities.
The government determined the incident was an accident and did not press charges. "They were navigating by sight and were lost," Justice Department spokesman Kevin Madden said.
However, that "doesn't mean the [Federal Aviation Administration] is done with them," said Chris Dancy, media-relations director of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a trade group for pilots and owners of small planes.
He said the FAA could suspend or revoke their pilot certificates.
The plane was owned by a consortium, the Vintage Aero Club, and the six to 10 members were "regular local guys" who mostly just flew locally, said the owner of the airport, Melvin Glick, 72, who took a break from mowing the airport lawn to talk to reporters.
"I can't imagine" how it all happened, he said. "I'm shocked."
A pilot and former member of the club, John E. Henderson of Lancaster, said he went flying in a glider with Sheaffer on Monday, and from their conversation he gathered Sheaffer had been a pilot "for quite a while."
He said he had seen Sheaffer purchase a new map.
"I didn't question him on the route he was taking" to Lumberton, Henderson said. In retrospect, "I probably should have."
Martin was familiar with the no-fly zones, said his wife, Jill.
He told her "how they were going to avoid them," she said. "He said they were going to fly between two different restricted areas."
She said she believed the incident was a simple mistake.
Later today, no one answered the door, which bore a sign reading: "We have no comment at this time. Please respect our privacy."
The two-seater Cessna 150 had no GPS navigational system, Henderson said. He said some pilots used handheld devices, but he did not know whether Sheaffer had one.
Without one, he would have used a network of radio beacons for guidance. Even so, it would be easy to "blunder" into a restricted area, Henderson said. "There's no magical line drawn around Washington that tells you you're violating their airspace."
Glick said about 70 private planes were based at the Smoketown Airport, where federal agents and local police came and went throughout the day.
He said he was floored by the attention the incident was drawing. The plane weighed 1,500 pounds; if it flew into a building, he said, "they'd break a window out, but nothing more."
Last June, both the White House and the Capitol were evacuated when a small plane carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher flew into restricted airspace. Fletcher's plane had been cleared to make the flight, but a communications mix-up triggered the alert.
The speed and intensity of today's evacuation were unusual.
"This has the feel emotionally of Sept. 11," said Rep. Christopher Shays (R., Conn.) as he left the Capitol. "The urgency far exceeded anything that has happened before."
Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) was in the Dirksen Senate Office Building for a hearing when the alarm was sounded. He and his staff went to Union Station several blocks away, where they waited until they got the all-clear. He was back in the Capitol about 12:30 to attend a previously scheduled Republican lunch.
Among the evacuees was Mayor Street, who had been in a Senate office building for a meeting sponsored by the Conference of Mayors. "They were discussing the future of Amtrak," Street spokeswoman Deborah Bolling said. "When the order to evacuate came, they left. When they told them to go back in, they went back in."
Some sought to strike a lighter note.
"While we were waiting in the parking lot, some wags suggested we check the fire alarms for your fingerprints," Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R., Ohio) told a panel of witnesses, before resuming a hearing on the problems of Amtrak's Acela train.
Flying in a straight line through Washington, rather than east along the Delmarva peninsula or west past Morgantown, W.Va., "is going to take you several months" longer, quipped Henderson, the Lancaster pilot. "Because they're going to arrest you."
Jack Neubacher, a spokesman for the Lumberton Fly-In, now in its second year, said he did not know the two pilots. Last year's show drew 500 planes - as well as 50,000 aviation enthusiasts - and "we don't chart their course."
By land or air. "People make wrong turns on Interstate 95 coming here all the time," he said. "Unfortunately, these gentlemen made a wrong turn in an airplane."
Contact staff writer Sandy Bauers at 610-701-7635 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Inquirer staff writers Steve Goldstein and Michael Currie Schaffer, and the Associated Press contributed to this article.
Wayward Pilot Could Lose License, Report Says
By SIOBHAN McDONOUGH, AP
WASHINGTON (May 15) - The government is pledging to take serious action against the pilot whose small plane strayed over Washington last week, leading to the panicked evacuations of the White House, the Capitol and the Supreme Court.
"Any enforcement action we might take is not done lightly," said Greg Martin, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. An investigation could result in the revocation of Hayden "Jim" Sheaffer Jr.'s pilot's license. Student pilot Troy D. Martin, who was also in the single-engine Cessna 150, does not have a pilot certificate, so he will not be subject to the same action.
"It's quite evident from anybody who witnessed Wednesday's incident that the pilot clearly had no idea what he wandered into," Greg Martin said Saturday.
Sheaffer, 69, froze when a Black Hawk helicopter appeared near his right wing as he was flying toward the White House and had a hard time handling his small aircraft, officials told The Washington Post. Troy Martin, 36, who had logged only 30 hours of flight time, took over the controls and landed the plane at an airport in Frederick, Md., the paper reported Saturday.
Sheaffer and Martin took off from Smoketown, Pa., on Wednesday to go to an air show in Lumberton, N.C.
Their plane entered restricted airspace and then continued flying toward highly sensitive areas, prompting evacuations of tens of thousands of people as military aircraft scrambled to intercept it. Alert levels at the White House and the Capitol were raised to their highest level - red.
Pilot's Stumble Triggers Panic
Customs officials had scrambled a Black Hawk helicopter, which peeled away when two F-16 fighter jets arrived at the scene. The jets dipped their wings - a pilot's signal to "follow me" - and tried to contact the pilot on the radio. When the Cessna didn't change course, the jet pilots dropped flares.
Finally, when the Cessna came within three miles of the White House - just a few minutes flying time - it altered course.
After landing in Frederick, the pilot and student pilot were handcuffed and questioned before being released. Authorities said the two had become lost en route to North Carolina from Pennsylvania.
Sheaffer and Martin have not been available for comment.
Sheaffer didn't take the most basic steps required of pilots before operating an aircraft, the Post reported, citing FAA records. He failed to check the weather report before leaving Smoketown, and he didn't check the FAA's "Notices to Airmen," which informs pilots of airspace restrictions.
05-15-05 21:31 EDT
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