- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

A single-engine Cessna 150 veered into restricted airspace over Washington at midday yesterday, terrorizing the White House and the Capitol and setting off a brief panic in the streets surrounding the White House and the Capitol.

The president was not at the White House, but Secret Service agents hustled Vice President Dick Cheney out of his office and sped him away in an escorted limousine. The first lady and the visiting Nancy Reagan were taken to a “secure place.”

Aides and reporters were led out of the White House by Secret Service agents who yelled at them to “run, run, run.” At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, legislators, aides and tourists ran from the Capitol, jostling each other out of the way. Officers burst into the Congress members’ dining rooms, yelling: “Run, don’t walk.” Other police officers ran up the streets with guns drawn. Snipers took up positions atop office buildings, and police cars screamed to intersections to block traffic.

Evacuation was ordered as well at the Supreme Court and at the Treasury.

Congressional leaders were rushed out by armed police. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, who was on the House floor when the alarm was sounded, left in a rush, trailing his bodyguards. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi fled in her stocking feet when Capitol Police officers lifted her out of her shoes.

“I ran for six blocks because they were screaming ‘run for your life’ because a plane was coming in,” said a lobbyist who was evacuated from the Capitol.

The panic subsided less than an hour later when F-16 fighter jets of the D.C. Air National Guard’s 121st Fighter Squadron, based at Andrews Air Force Base, and a Black Hawk helicopter of the U.S. Customs Service diverted the two-seater plane to an airfield at Frederick, Md., 50 miles north of the Capitol.

Television networks went live with video shots of the turmoil on the streets, and even after the all-clear was sounded, they continued to roll the footage through the afternoon. When White House press secretary Scott McClellan began his afternoon briefing, the first questions were about the incident.

A reporter shouted: “Was the shoot-down order given?”

Everything went according to “protocol,” Mr. McClellan said, and disclosed that the president was on a bicycle ride at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland at the time. The Secret Service brought him back to Washington after the threat dissolved.

The incident exposed the nervousness and fear remaining in official Washington since the September 11 attack, when 19 Islamist terrorists hijacked four airliners and flew two of them into the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon. The fourth airliner either crashed or was forced down by passengers in rural Pennsylvania.

The pilot and the passenger on the Cessna were identified later in the afternoon as veteran pilot Hayden Shaeffer of Lititz, Pa., and student pilot Troy Martin, of Akron, Pa. They were detained at gunpoint when they landed at Frederick Municipal Airport.

The men were turned over to Secret Service agents, who last night said they released them without charge after concluding “that the intrusion into restricted airspace appears to have been accidental.”

“The plane and the individuals were searched, and nothing of protective interest was found,” a Secret Service spokesman said. The Federal Aviation Administration will determine whether the pilot’s license will be revoked.

The men had taken off from Smoketown Airport near Lancaster, Pa., and were en route to an air show in North Carolina when they veered off course, authorities said.

A message posted yesterday on the Web site of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said the two belonged to a 10-member flying club, with a fellow member saying, “I know these people. Not one of them would do anything to harm anyone.”

But Washington’s city officials complained that they were not notified until after federal officials determined that the plane posed no threat and sounded an “all-clear.” The John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., which houses the mayor’s and the D.C. Council’s offices, was not evacuated.

“Critical and potentially life-or-death information about threats facing District residents needs to be shared immediately — not five, 10 or 15 minutes after the fact,” D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said. “I am concerned about the apparent delay in alerting key decision-makers in the city.”

As if all that wasn’t enough, the Capitol was evacuated again late last night — for a trash-can fire on the House side of the building. Nobody was hurt, and firefighters quickly brought it under control.

A small plane has violated White House airspace before. In 1994, a stolen Cessna crashed onto the South Lawn of the executive mansion, killing the pilot. President Clinton and his family were not at the White House at the time.

Last summer, a twin-engine plane with Gov. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky aboard, en route to the state funeral of Ronald Reagan, entered the restricted airspace, radiating from the Washington Monument, and the Capitol was briefly evacuated.

Customs and Border Protection — a Department of Homeland Security agency that regularly monitors the airspace — was unable to communicate by radio with the pilot yesterday, authorities said. The Air Force was alerted and scrambled two F-16 fighter jets, whose pilots captured the pilot’s attention by firing flares near the Cessna, which then swerved west and was escorted to Frederick.

• Jerry Seper and Audrey Hudson contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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