- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

Two F-15 fighters were dispatched to investigate a local television station's helicopter yesterday as it flew into controlled airspace, the apparent result of a communications failure between the pilot and the federal agencies that patrol the skies.
The WRC-TV (Channel 4) helicopter departed an airfield near Baltimore at about 10:15 a.m. The helicopter, which the station has dubbed Chopper 4 and travels about 150 mph, was sent up with a photographer to shoot live video of a traffic backup on Interstate 270.
"[The F-15s] were sent up to eyeball it. They determined it represented no threat," said Army Maj. Barry Venable, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint United States-Canadian military agency that patrols the skies around Washington.
The WRC crew was able to continue its work, station spokeswoman Angela Owens said.
The incident was a topic of conversation on a local radio call-in show featuring Air Force officials. Some callers who were stuck on I-270 asked the officials why the F-15s where flying overhead.
The Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the incident, spokesman Greg Martin said. The investigation will determine if the helicopter pilot followed FAA guidelines, he said.
Ms. Owens said there was a communications failure, but she did not know if it was human or mechanical.
News and traffic helicopters have been restricted from flying within a 15-mile radius of the Washington Monument since the September 11 terrorist attacks. This month, the FAA extended the area an additional 30 miles when federal authorities issued a Code Orange terrorism alert.


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