- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

Air Force fighter planes yesterday intercepted a small plane that had strayed into restricted airspace near the White House, a violation that prompted Secret Service agents to move Vice President Dick Cheney and Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. to a secure location.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush were not in the White House at the time and were never in danger.

The privately owned plane, en route to Jacksonville, Fla., from Pennsylvania and following the Potomac River, was escorted out of restricted airspace without incident at about 11:15 a.m. The pilot flew his plane on to North Carolina, where he stopped to refuel.

“He said he was enjoying the flight back and didn’t realize he was in violation,” Secret Service spokeswoman Jean Mitchell said. “He did see the fighter jets. He did try to communicate with them, but he got no response.”

The fighters were scrambled from nearby Andrews Air Force Base. They intercepted the plane and escorted it out of the area, she said.

“He was within eight miles” of the White House, Miss Mitchell said. “It’s enough to effect our emergency response plan.”

She said as the pilot headed farther south, the fighters left his side and “he didn’t think about it anymore” until officials stopped him in Silar City, N.C., outside Raleigh.

“The Secret Service interviewed him and there was no direction of interest toward the president. We searched his plane. He actually didn’t realize that he was in violation,” she said.

The Secret Service will not pursue the matter, but the Federal Aviation Administration is conducting an investigation.

When the plane first strayed into restricted airspace, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Card were moved to a secure location as a precautionary measure, said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan. Armed officers took up positions on the White House lawn.

The vice president and chief of staff resumed their normal routines when officials determined that the plane was not a threat, Mr. McClellan said.

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