An F-16 fighter jet, fully armed with air-to-air missiles under its wings, maneuvers above the northwest section of Washington D.C., Wednesday, May 11, 2005, near a cluster of embassies from Middle Eastern nations as it and at least one other F-16 scrambl
Photo credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Capitol and White House were briefly evacuated Wednesday after a small plane entered restricted airspace over the city.
Security officials in several other government buildings, including the Treasury Department and the U.S. Supreme Court, ordered people to safer locations. Military aircraft were scrambled over the city.
President Bush was away from the White House, biking at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Beltsville, Md. Vice President Dick Cheney, in the White House, was moved to a "secure location" elsewhere, said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Congressional leaders were hustled from the Capitol by armed officers.
The incident began at 11:28 a.m., when Federal Aviation Administration radar picked up the aircraft, a small two-seater Cessna 150 with high wings, officials said. The aircraft breached the security zone over Washington, law enforcement officials said, prompting alerts across the city.
"Out of an abundance of caution, the appropriate security measures consistent with this type of violation went into effect," said Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.
Two Black Hawk helicopters were dispatched at 11:55 a.m. from Reagan National Airport, according to an FAA official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The plane came as close as four miles to the city, the official said.
The plane was approached by a fighter aircraft and escorted to a small airport in Frederick, Md. The pilot was being held by Maryland state police at the airport in Frederick, Justice Department spokesman Kevin Madden said.
The incident sparked a flurry of emergency activity throughout the capital, which was targeted on Sept. 11, 2001 and has been under a heightened state of alert since then.
Armed security officers raced through the Capitol shouting for people to leave. "This is not a drill," guards shouted as they moved people away from the building.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., was on the Senate floor when police told him they needed to evacuate. "They said get out of here, so I ran. There's no joking about this kind of stuff," Shelby said.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert was on the House floor talking to members when the evacuation siren went off. He left quickly with his security detail.
Large black armored SUVs often used by House and Senate leaders sped away from the Capitol as a military jet flew overhead.
"People were surprised. I was surprised," said Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who was on the House floor when the evacuation began. "There was so much commotion in the gallery. People were yelling in the gallery. We thought something had happened in the gallery, and then the alarm came to evacuate."
Sarah Little, an aide to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. said the order to evacuate came over the special pager devices that every congressional office has. "They said ... there is an imminent aircraft threat," she said.
Washington's Reagan National Airport has been closed to general aviation since the Sept. 11 attacks. In the 3' years since then, hundreds of small planes have flown within the restricted airspace around the capital - a 15'-mile radius around the Washington Monument.
However, it's rare for fighter jets to be scrambled.
In the most dramatic incident since the Sept. 11 attacks, thousands of people fled the Capitol, packed with members of Congress and other dignitaries, when a plane flew into the restricted air space just before the funeral procession for President Ronald Reagan last June.
A communications breakdown led federal officials to believe the plane might be targeting the Capitol, but it turned out to be carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who had been cleared to fly into the area.