- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

A false reading on a military radar screen caused Air Force jets to scramble to the restricted airspace over the White House yesterday and caused a brief evacuation of the West Wing.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Rebecca Trexler said a flock of birds or a natural disturbance in the atmosphere likely tripped the radar a little after 9 a.m. yesterday and spurred the North American Aerospace Defense Command to send up the fighter jets.

“Radars just bounce off whatever is there,” Mrs. Trexler said. “It could be a bird or it could be rain or it could be an airplane. We don’t know what it is, but when NORAD scrambled, they didn’t find anything.”

The fear that a plane was flying within five miles of the restricted airspace around the White House prompted the evacuation of the West Wing at 9:20 a.m. yesterday. Within 20 minutes, however, the evacuation was canceled.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Mrs. Trexler said.

Maj. Eric Butterbaugh, NORAD spokesman, said two Air Force jets were sent to the White House when the blips showed up on the radar screens of NORAD, which monitors all the airspace in the United States and Canada from its Colorado headquarters.

“Obviously, when the fighters responded there wasn’t any threat, but they continued to patrol the area,” Maj. Butterbaugh said.

President Bush was in Britain at the time of the incident, and he also was away when a private plane flew into the restricted airspace near the White House on Nov. 10.

In that incident, a Florida man’s plane flew down the Potomac River within eight miles of the White House, prompting the Secret Service to move Vice President Dick Cheney and Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. to a secure location.

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